Tiger Woods finished his practice round with the kind of gesture he had been performing all day. He took his putter and rolled a couple of balls inot the first row of the gallery around the 18th green, to appreciative applause.

There was appreciative applause all the way around--not the raucous frenzy that always has greeted him from green to tee and along each fairway, but positive, polite acknowledgement of his as the greatest golfer ever. There were no razzing incidents, no catcalls or loaded comments.

"I was expecting it to be positive and it was probably even better," said Jim Furyk, wno joined Woods and Fred Couples on the 13th hole. Furyk explained that Couples had made a "pit stop" off the 13th tee and had told Furyk, putting out on No. 12, to join them.

Couples kept the mood light, working the crowd and continuously talking to Woods. There were many more shouts of "Fred-die!" than there were "Ti-ger!" There were sporadic "Welcome Back Tiger!" shouts, nothing sustained.

Still, people were very polite to Woods during his first public practice round since his the scandal surrounding him evolved in November. On the second hole, someone said, "Great day for golf!" Woods replied, "That it is." Not long after that, someone in the gallery welcomed Woods back and he replied, "Thank you."

When the "patrons" urged Woods to try to skip a ball off the water on No. 16, he and Couples and Furyk all did it simultaneously and all three shots made it to dry land. The crowd loved it. Woods, known for his laser focus and not known to acknowledge fans while on the course, repeatedly tipped his cap to the applause.

He will hold his first news conference since last November this afternoon at 2.

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Couples, a 50-year-old who is tearing up the Champions Tour and is a longtime friend of Woods, spoke of keeping the mood light. "It's not my goal to talk to Tiger about his life," he said to a big throng of reporters outside the clubhouse. "I find it weird that I'm standing here talking to 100 people."

Woods didn't look sharp. He often "reloaded," hitting a second shot from the fairway or tee when the first one went off line (mostly left).

Furyk thought Woods' irons looked good. And he didn't think the response was all that muted. "I felt a lot of people reached out to say hello...men, women, kids," Furyk said, adding that he didn't bring up Woods' situation. "I didn't tease him as much as normal. I'll wait 'til the second time."

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