By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Tiger Woods made his Augusta comeback Monday with some golf fans seemingly willing to forgive but not forget as the world number one began his preparations for the U.S. Masters under a media microscope.
The four-times Masters champion was back in familiar surroundings but unfamiliar territory, playing his first public golf since his stunning fall from grace at the end of 2009 amid tawdry revelations about extra-marital affairs.
"I certainly am still a Tiger fan but I'm mad at him," said one elderly grey-haired woman as Woods marched stoically past her.
Playing 18 holes was just the start of a long, tortuous day for the 34-year-old who is due to hold a news conference at 1400 local time when he is sure to face a tough grilling.
Such is the interest in the conference, which will be broadcast live around the world, that reporters will need tickets to land one of the 207 available seats.
Flanked front and back by tight, Woods did not face any noticeable heckling but neither was he showered with the wild adoration normally bestowed on him when he appears on a golf course.
The 14-times major winner stepped on to the first tee to polite applause from a gallery that included Augusta National chairman Billy Payne and Woods's agent Mark Steinberg.
Woods, who had said he was apprehensive about his return, got his round off to a jittery start, pulling his opening shot wildly left before reloading and driving his second down the middle of the fairway.
"It is tough to get back into the playing routine," Briton Luke Donald told reporters as he prepared to tee off for his practice round.
"As much as you practice out on the range it is not quite the same as being out on the course. I am sure Tiger feels ready, he wouldn't be back here otherwise."
The scene was typical of a practice round involving Woods, with every hole lined 10-15 deep from tee to green.
Focused and often surly on the course, Woods allowed himself to interact more than usual with the crowd offering a polite "thank you" several times to shouts of "welcome back Tiger."
While Augusta's tight security was enough to dissuade anyone from heckling the world number one, it did not stop the jokes about his self-confessed sex addiction and affairs.
Despite the snickers, Couples thought the reception his playing partner received was "awesome" describing Woods as a good kid who made a mistake.
"The reception was awesome, and that's the way it should be," said Couples, surrounded by a horde of media. "He knows he made a blunder, he is back to here to play golf and make up for it and good golf will do that and bad golf will do that.
"He's a good kid and I've played with him almost every year in a practice round over here at Augusta and there is no reason for that to change.
"Basically we are buddies, he's doing great and I am happy for him that he is playing here. I think he is fine."
The first major of the year starts on Thursday.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)