REDWOOD CITY--Tiger Woods, whose brand name was tarnished mightily by the sex scandal that erupted around him last year, has a new partner with a highly regarded image - Augusta National Golf Club.
The fabled home course of the Masters, nestled among the Georgia pine trees, will be featured in a videogame for the first time in the next edition of the Tiger Woods series, officials announced Tuesday.
Augusta National chairman Billy Payne and Electronic Arts Incorporated officials collaborated for three years to give video golf fans an unprecedented chance to play for a virtual green jacket, the symbol of Masters supremacy.
"There are many new and unique elements in the game that will make everyone feel like they're really competing at Augusta National," Woods said. "This is great for the sport and will connect a new audience with the Masters."
The move shows a re-embracing of Woods only nine months after Payne scolded Woods for the scandal that embroiled Woods last year, the first winless season of his career, and led to the divorce of Woods and Elin Nordegren.
EA Sports will release Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters in North America on March 29 and worldwide on April 1 on Wii, Xbox 360 and Playstation3 consoles. Augusta and five other courses are included in a special edition for Playstation3.
The timing is just days before the world's best golfers gather in Augusta, Georgia, for the April 7 start of the 2011 Masters, the next major championship event.
Woods ended a five-month break from golf at last year's Masters, where Payne noted how Woods had "disappointed us all" by admitting infidelity with multiple mistresses.
"Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children," Payne said last April. "He forgot in the process to remember that with fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility."
EA Sports and Nike were the major sponsors who stayed with Woods as the scope of the scandal became public, the billion-dollar pitchman having been removed from advertisements by several other prominent firms.
Payne has tried to boost the visibility of the Masters in recent years, allowing extra hours of television coverage and live video of several holes available on-line, including the famed trio of holes known as Amen Corner.
Augusta National also joined the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in creating an Asian amateur championship whose winner receives an invitation to the Masters.
Putting Augusta National in a videogame is a continuation of Payne's desire to boost the sport and should help uplift Woods as a brand name in the process.
"Our sincere motivation is to draw an even greater audience to this wonderful sport and continue to inspire its growth by building off the success seen in previous versions of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise," Payne said.
"The beauty of Augusta National and the rich history of the Masters have inspired the dreams of golfers for generations.
"Three years of collaboration with EA Sports has resulted in a game we feel presents a truly authentic Masters experience."
Woods said he sees a strong chance to broaden golf's appeal with the videogame move.
"I am very happy and excited that the Masters Tournament is featured in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour game," Woods said.
"Continually growing the visibility of golf is important to attracting newcomers to the sport, and I agree that showcasing the Masters Tournament in the game will bring an entirely new dimension to that approach."
Peter Moore, president of EA Sports, said videogame golf fans have been clamoring for the chance to play Augusta National, a private club course which has no women members.
"For more than a decade, the Masters Tournament has been the most requested and coveted feature for the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise among our fans," Moore said.
"Pairing the number one golf video game franchise with the most prestigious golf tournament in the world is a perfect marriage and we're thrilled to bring our fans this exciting opportunity."
Videogame offerings include the chance to beat Tiger's scores in each round of his four Masters triumphs, a caddie available to offer advice on every hole, a chance to play against past legends in historic Masters moments, a chance to play as a rising amateur or 20 players added to this year's edition of the game.