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March 26, 2010 01:14AM
European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, who faced his share of hecklers in the United States, believes Tiger Woods will be able to cope with any abuse that comes his way on his return to golf.

Woods, who has not competed since his marital infidelities became public in November, has admitted to being nervous about the reception that awaits him on his return at the U.S. Masters next month.

“I heard when he said he would be nervous to come back and that's the first time I've ever heard Tiger say those words, it's going to be interesting,” Briton Montgomerie told a news conference on Wednesday ahead of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I hear he has been up for a practice round (at Augusta) already. He'll get over those nerves and he will be as determined as anyone has ever been on a golf course to prove that he is still the number one player in the world and, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game,” he said.

Montgomerie, who was jeered by U.S. fans in the past — notably at the 1999 Ryder Cup in Brookline — and threatened to stop playing Stateside, said if anyone could cope with distractions on the course it was Woods.

“He has a spotlight and it has been on him for the last 10 years. It's amazing how sometimes you see him swing a club and it comes down and just stops, incredible how he has that control to stop the club at that speed.

“So he has been used to this most of his professional career. I don't envisage any problems arising from that at all. He is the most focused sportsman I have ever known and I think he will adapt accordingly,” said Montgomerie, the European Ryder Cup captain.

“Being such a controlled environment, I think he is being very wise selecting the Masters for his return and believe me, he wouldn't be playing in the Masters if he didn't think he could win.”

The Arnold Palmer is an event Woods has won six-times, including the last two editions at the Bay Hill course, just down the road from his home in Windermere, but the host is without the world number one this year.

“I will say we are disappointed that Tiger isn't here to play…on any of the other issues..I have an opinion, I will keep it till a later date to give it,” said Palmer.

A four-times Masters winner, Palmer faced only cheers and applause from the galleries in his time on the tour and he said he would find it hard to handle any heckling of the kind Woods might have to deal with this year.

“It would probably bother me. I'm a sensitive person by nature and it would effect me to a degree. It is certainly not something I would look forward to,” he said.

Palmer sounded skeptical about how sharp Woods would be.

“You can't get very sharp not playing. Even just practicing won't do it. I think to be sharp, you have to compete, you have to be in the mood to compete.

“Now you can say, (take off) a couple of weeks, that would be one thing; but five months, you know..,” he said.

At the same time though, Palmer is expecting Woods to be in among the contenders at Augusta.

“Absolutely, I think that is the nature of the beast – he's a competitor.”