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No circus in Augusta to greet Tiger

By Todd Leopold, CNN
  • Huge crush of celebrity media was expected to greet Tiger Woods at Masters
  • Area has been strangely devoid of paparazzi and celebrity press
  • Photo agencies: Desired picture would be of Woods with wife Elin; she's not there
  • Heavy security surrounds Woods; Masters scheduled to start Thursday

Augusta, Georgia (CNN) -- As Tiger Woods hit drives and putts during pre-Masters preparations this week, he was trailed by gigantic, cheering galleries -- and a handful of security men.

But one group of Woods' followers appeared strangely absent: the paparazzi and gossip press that has chronicled him since his sex scandal broke in November.

"More people are concerned about trying to find Sandra Bullock right now than they are about what Tiger Woods is going to do," said the head of one celebrity-chasing photo agency.

The scene along nearby Washington Road -- a thoroughfare of fast-food restaurants, national chains, gas stations and strip malls -- seemed relatively subdued. Aside from the usual clots of ticket hawkers and neatly dressed patrons walking along its sidewalk-less curbs, and a few promotions reps in sponsor tents, the only carnival-style experience was a small vendors area at the corner of Berckmans Road, not far from the Augusta National patrons entry gate.

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So much for the long lenses and aggressive attitudes of celebrity publications apparently expected by local officials.

"TMZ, Entertainment Weekly and People magazine, along with 'Extra,' are ... typical calls I don't get, come Masters Week," Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver told CNN earlier this week. (CNN, TMZ, Entertainment Weekly and People are all units of Time Warner.)

Woods has been at the white-hot center of the celebrity press since revelations of extramarital affairs arose following an auto accident. In the past few months, several alleged lovers have come forth, and Woods spent 45 days at a rehabilitation center for what the golfer called "personal" issues at his Monday press conference.

Some celebrity media outlets said they were wary of the predicted paparazzi crush. (As Yogi Berra, a legend in another sport, once allegedly said, "Nobody goes there anymore -- it's too crowded.") Besides, in Augusta, Woods has been seen playing golf, not hanging out at eateries and nightspots. His wife Elin remains in Florida; Woods said at his Monday press conference that she wouldn't be joining him.

"There's nothing to be gained," said Frank Griffin, co-head of the Bauer-Griffin photo agency, who said last week he's not sending any photographers to Augusta.

Splash News obtained photos from the air of Woods' alleged Augusta residence. But CEO Gary Morgan said his agency will be focusing on images of Woods' facial expressions on the course for their psychological insight.

With the golfer under such tight wraps away from the course, "from a photographers' point of view, it's not a money-making exercise," he said.

For that, Woods might want to thank Augusta National itself, a private organization whose reputation for decorum casts an aura of control over Masters Week.

As many sportswriters observed, it's almost certainly no accident that Woods picked Augusta to make his return to golf. The city promotes its green-jacketed golf heritage industriously -- its marketing materials are bordered by green, and even the water spurting out of a decorative fountain at a Publix supermarket near Augusta National has been tinted green -- and Augusta National, a fenced, tree-lined fortress just west of downtown, is protective of its world.

From the moment visitors park their cars at the course, they're cautioned by a welcome sign of prohibited items: no cell phones, beepers or electronic devices; no bags, backpacks or purses; no cameras on tournament days; no folding armchairs; no strollers; no flags, banners or signs; no ladders or periscopes; no radios, TV or video recorders. No weapons, either. (The rules were bent for Woods during his Tuesday practice round, when he took out a phone to record fellow golfer Mark O'Meara.)

The club defends its ability to dictate its own rules. In 2002, when Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations asked Augusta National to reconsider its position on allowing women members, it demurred. When Burk asked sponsors to pull their commercials from the TV broadcast, the Masters simply ran commercial-free in 2003 and 2004.

Augusta also protects its golfers well. Though a spokesman for the Richmond County Sheriff's Office told CNN, "We don't discuss any security plans with anybody," Maj. Richard Weaver from the same office told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "We have [plainclothes and uniformed] deputies stationed all around that place." Woods also has his own guards.

Some of the security might be trying to keep out alleged former Woods paramour Joslyn James, who said she'll be traveling to Augusta while she's in Georgia performing at Atlanta's Pink Pony strip club. According to the Newark, New Jersey-based Star-Ledger, security guards at Augusta National were seen with photos of Woods' alleged mistresses, and one guard asked a female spectator, "Are you the stripper?"

But at this point, it appears even the celebrity press has come to terms with the "Tiger bubble." They're ready for the next chapter of the story: the happy ending.

And not necessarily the one in which Woods puts on the green jacket for the fifth time.

"Really, what we're looking for now is [whether there is] going to be this fairy-tale reconciliation [with Elin]," said Splash News' Morgan.

"In my world, people want to be made to feel warm and fuzzy," said Bauer-Griffin's Griffin. "They want to see the pratfalls of the rich and famous, but the reality is they'd rather see ... Tiger Woods with Elin walking hand-in-hand and the kids toddling along into the sunset."

"That," he said, "would be the million-dollar picture."