Augusta, Georgia :Tiger Woods will hit the first golf shot of the rest of his life on Thursday at the 74th Masters, ending a 144-day competitive layoff and trying to move beyond the sex scandal that caused it.
The most anticipated stroke in 150 years of golf history is scheduled off Augusta National Golf Club's first tee at 1:42 p.m. by world number one Woods after five months of having his indiscretions laid bare to people around the globe.
"I'm looking forward to that first tee and teeing off, getting out there and doing what I've done for a very long time," Woods said. "I'm hoping I get my feel back quickly, hopefully first hole. If not, please hope it's the second."
The 14-time major champion, seeking a fifth Masters title as he stalks the all-time record of 18 major crowns won by Jack Nicklaus, admitted cheating on wife Elin as more than a dozen women have claimed sexual affairs with Woods.
"I have lied and deceived a lot of people," Woods said. "I acted just terribly poorly, made just incredibly bad decisions that have hurt so many people close to me... I even lied to myself.
"The full magnitude of it, it's pretty brutal."
Since winning the Australian Masters in mid-November, Woods has endured global humiliation but curiosity as well, as people far beyond the typical sport fans wonder how the mighty golfer would cope with his epic fall from grace.
Finally, the story will be about Woods and his golf game. It's a relief not only for the superstar and former marketing golden boy, but for friends and rivals such as former Masters winner Mark O'Meara, who practiced Wednesday with Woods.
"It's a tough situation," O'Meara said. "He's moving in the right direction. The guy is trying to get his life together. He will take time to try and figure all that out and I think it's time for people to let him do that."
Woods has been given a friendly if not fully embraced welcome at Augusta National, whose undulating greens could cause him headaches because of his long layoff and his decision not to play a tune-up event before coming back here.
Ben Hogan's 1951 and 1953 victories were the only ones by a player who made the Masters his first event of a season, the feat Woods is trying to equal as he tries to set aside his downfall and focus on what made people care for him.
"It's never out of the question," O'Meara said of a Woods victory this week. "It depends on his confidence level, even for Tiger Woods. I liked what I saw out there."
Mother Nature could have a cruel jest in store for those who have been waiting for Woods' return since the November 27 car crash that touched off the gossip firestorm.
Forecasters predict a 70 percent chance of Thursday afternoon thunderstorms at Augusta National, with clear skies the remainder of the week.
Woods has been more relaxed and easygoing this week with spectators, joking and smiling with them after years of stoic focus on winning. It's an approach Woods says brings him more fun.
"Going through all of this the past few months really put things in perspective for me and how much I have underappreciated the fans in the game of golf," Woods said.
Deeds, not words, will determine Woods' fate in his second chance. That was made starkly clear by Augusta National chairman Billy Payne in unprecedented comments Wednesday aimed at letting Woods know the golf world is watching him.
"It is not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here. It is the fact that he disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grandkids," Payne said.
"Is there a way forward? I hope yes. I think yes. But certainly his future will never again be measured only by his performance against par, but measured by the sincerity of his efforts to change."
Kenny Perry, Masters runner-up a year ago, wants to give Woods the benefit of the doubt but awaits his actions as well.
"I hope we're a country that will forgive and give him a second shot," Woods said. "We all heard what he said. If he honors it, we need to stand behind him."
Separately, Woods on Wednesday appeared in his first new television ad since the scandal broke.
The 30 second black-and-white Nike ad featured a voice recording of the golfer's late father appearing to talk about the Woods's personal woes.
"I want to find out what your thinking was; I want to find out what your feelings are. Did you learn anything?" said Earl Woods as a somber-looking Tiger looked directly into the camera.
Sponsors had sought to distance themselves from the troubled star as sordid details of his person life emerged.
Nike reportedly paid Woods around 40 million dollars a year before the scandal.