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Augusta chairman tees off on Tiger Woods

Finally, stunningly, the Masters bit back.

After three weeks of being tossed about in the relentless grip of Tiger Woods’ sex scandal comeback, the staid golf tournament has found its legs and bared its teeth.

In a monologue at the beginning of his annual news conference Wednesday, Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne basically ripped the stripes off Tiger.

There’s no green jacket you can drape on it. There’s no azalea you can plant over it. It was, as they say here, a torching unlike any other.

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Just when it appeared Woods was bigger than the Masters, the Masters told him to stuff a red polo shirt in it. In the middle of what appeared to be a fawning Masters welcome back from his five-week exile, the Masters dragged him into a corner and pounded him with a full amen.

“We are not unaware of the significance of this week to a very special player, Tiger Woods,” said Payne, setting the stage. “As he ascended in our rankings of the world’s great golfers, he became an example to our kids that success is directly attributable to hard work and effort.”

Then, with the same Southern voice and syrup expression, the chairman leveled him.

“But, as he now says himself, he forgot in the process to remember that with fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility,” Payne said. “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. Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children.”

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There is, of course, no small irony in the chairman of a club that does not allow women -- and did not admit its first African American member until 1990 -- calling anybody else’s behavior “egregious.”

But the point here is, Tiger Woods’ behavior has been judged so bad that even the badly behaving Augusta National is embarrassed by him.

“Is there a way forward? I hope, yes. I think, yes,” Payne said. “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. I hope he now realizes that every kid he passes on the course wants his swing, but would settle for his smile.”

You wondered whether Augusta National was pleased that Woods chose their protective environment for his escape from the allegations of nearly two dozen alleged mistresses and the suspicions surrounding an HGH doctor? This is your answer.

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“I hope he can come to understand that life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who bring joy to the lives of other people,” said Payne. “We at Augusta hope and pray that our great champion will begin his new life here tomorrow in a positive, hopeful and constructive manner, but this time, with a significant difference from the past.”

Remember, this is a club that never publicly rips anyone. If they don’t like the words of one the CBS announcers, as with Gary McCord in 1995, that announcer simply disappears. When women’s activist Martha Burk was staging protests down the street in 2003, they simply ignored her.

Augusta National is all about tight lips and tighter smiles. For Payne to publicly chastise Woods is as startling as the club changing its jacket color to blue.

How bad was it? Payne not only implied that the Masters didn’t want Woods’ comeback to occur here, he essentially reminded everyone that, unlike other tournaments, its revenue was not dependent on Woods playing here.

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“We have no economic connection whatsoever to how many people watch TV, don’t watch TV, how many people come, don’t come . . . there’s no financial connection whatsoever,” Payne said.

This is why, what the other players couldn’t say Tuesday, Payne could deliver with authority Wednesday. The other players need Woods. The Masters doesn’t.

Payne said that he spoke to Woods at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night. He would not provide details, but here’s guessing they were not talking about Augusta’s new practice facility.

It will be interesting to see what sort of conversation they will have if Woods wins the tournament, it now being clear that Masters officials would consider such an occurrence to be a nightmare.

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Some would say the Masters would deserve it. Others would say the Masters and Woods deserve each other. In any event, it will be the week’s most uncomfortable -- or is it delicious? -- pairing, golf’s tarnished superstar and the ancient club that does not want him hanging around.

“This year, it will not be just for him, but for all of us, who believe in second chances,” Payne said.

In other words, the Masters wants Woods to consider himself lucky to be here. At this point, maybe Woods is not so sure.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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twitter.com/billplaschke


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