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AUGUSTA -- Reversal of expectation is as much a Masters tradition as Magnolia Lane. It starts with the most prestigious event in sports offering fans better deals -- free parking, throwback concession stand prices -- than found at minor league baseball and hockey games.

Why should we be surprised that so much of The Tiger Woods Show this week has been almost opposite of conventional anticipation?

The other way around so far:

--The long layoff did not keep Tiger from getting off to a dazzling start.

Or keep him off the leaderboard going into Sunday.

--More surprisingly, Tiger felt the love from the moment he stepped to the first tee Thursday to that smile and appreciative wave coming off the 18th green on Saturday.

--The Masters is extra-electric with Tiger and TV ratings are way up. But this hardly would have been a snore without him.

"The Masters is the Masters," said Angel Cabrera, perhaps the most overlooked defending Masters champion ever. "They can talk about anybody. They can talk about Tiger. But the Masters is the Masters and we have to give the importance to the Masters as the Masters."

--Tiger is intimidating.

Not to K.J. Choi, who played evenly with Tiger on Thursday, Friday and Saturday while playing with Tiger all three days. Woods and Choi are paired for a fourth day in a row today.

--Phil Mickelson doesn't do well playing in Tiger's shadow.

Except while slashing five strokes into the lead Saturday over three amazing holes.

Kids, and Dr. Galea

--Infidelity might not be Tiger's biggest problem down the road.

Talk of HGH and Tiger's admission that controversial Dr. Anthony Galea visited his home probably are issues that won't go away. Galea, currently under federal investigation, provided Woods with platelet-rich plasma treatment. Which is OK under the PGA drug testing rules.

But Woods deserves baseball-type scrutiny here, and then some.

--The ultra-protective green jackets who run Augusta National didn't shield their most talented champion. Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne let Woods have it during a blistering opening to his annual state-of-the-Masters address.

--The Augusta National crowd is heavy with adult males, but Payne singled out "our kids and our grandkids" as the most significant of those "disappointed" by Woods.

Tiger's impact on the secondary market for tickets and badges has made it tougher for golf enthusiasts to bring kids to the tournament, which is partly why Masters managers started an innovative junior pass program, which helps explain Payne's disgust.

--But Tiger did not bite back.

"I was disappointed in myself, too," Woods said when asked to react to Payne.

Similar beauty

--After all these years, Tiger's success, contrary to original theory, has not sparked significant participation by young African-American golfers at high levels of competition. But his Thai ties probably helped trigger a golf boom in Asian countries, which has led to a direct Masters connection to the Asian amateur golf program.

--The sky around Augusta National is not, as previously believed, protected by anti-aircraft artillery bunkers secretly placed along Washington Road.

"I thought this was like controlled air space," Tiger playing partner Matt Kuchar said when asked Thursday to comment on the infamous banner-carrying airplane.

--There might be more pressure on Tiger fans than Tiger. Those black and white "TW" caps aren't as plain and simple anymore.

Can you really wear one in public?

In mixed company?

--A lot has been different this week in Augusta. But for the most part, things are mostly the same: Azaleas, dogwoods, Tiger Woods in contention for another Masters jacket and patrons enjoying the best parking and food prices in sports.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at or (843) 937-5593.