Fort Valley fan gets up-close view of the now fan-friendly Woods

AUGUSTA — Fort Valley’s Melonee Miller got a special treat in her first trip to Augusta National Golf Club on Monday.

Attending a practice round at the Masters, Miller got to have a brief conversation with Tiger Woods, and he gave her one of his golf balls to remember the moment by.

The rest of the golf world will certainly remember this week after Woods returned to golf at the Masters after a long layoff and a much-publicized sex scandal.

“I was very excited that he came over to me,” Miller said. “He was very kind and gentle. I will remember this day for the rest of my life.”

Woods, who has been known for his fist-pumping excitement after good shots and angry outbursts after bad shots throughout his career, said this week at a news conference that he would have a calmer demeanor on the course. After not having much interaction with fans throughout his career, he said he was going to acknowledge the crowds more and appreciate them more, as well.

The 14-time major champion winner and four-time Masters winner is trying to rebuild his career on the course and image of it after admitting infidelity in his marriage.

Miller got a close-up view of the “new” Woods, at least for a moment.

“Yes, I was quite surprised, because when I told him that I was his No. 1 fan, he turned to me and said, ‘Thank you ma’am’ with a big smile, right before he teed off,” she said.

Woods had another big smile on his face Thursday when he approached the first tee for the first round of the Masters.

With a huge crowd (about 30 paces deep on three sides) surrounding the tee box, Woods waved to the crowd to a huge cheer after being introduced before hitting his first shot.

After ripping his first shot since November right down the middle of the fairway, Woods flashed a big smile and said, “Thank you” several times to the crowd, which roared its approval of the shot. Woods played to large crowds and applause throughout the day and finished with a round of 4-under-par 68, the first time he has ever shot better than 70 in the first round at the tournament.

Making his 16th Masters appearance, he is two shots out of the lead.

“It was unbelievable, the whole day,” Woods said. “The people, I haven’t heard them cheer this loud in all my years coming here. It certainly helped keep my spirits up.”