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Begay released from jail on Monday

Notah Begay resumes his journey from Albuquerque to Augusta with his release Monday from the jail where he's been serving a seven-day sentence for drunken driving.

Begay, one of the top rookies on the tour in 1999, will play in The Masters next month, but first must complete his stay in surroundings far removed from the glamour and glory of Augusta National.

"I know I'm going to be extremely relieved ... when I get out," Begay said when he entered the Bernalillo County Detention Center on Feb. 28.

Begay, a two-time winner on tour last year when he earned more than $1 million, was arrested Jan. 20 after his vehicle struck a parked car outside a popular Albuquerque bar. Police said his blood-alcohol level was .21, more than twice New Mexico's legal limit of .08.

Begay, 27, pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated drunken driving and told the judge he had a prior DWI conviction in Arizona five years ago.

Begay has been in a cell in protective custody. He's also been in a work release program, spending several hours a day working on his game. But his time behind bars has left a lasting impression.

"Being in an eight-by-eight cell by yourself in protective custody ... has not been fun," Begay told ESPN this week.

A Stanford graduate and former teammate of Tiger Woods, Begay is the only American Indian on the tour. His success and charisma have made him popular among youngsters in his home state, but especially so among Indian youths.

Begay has vowed to win back the trust of his fans and not make the same mistake again. He is under court order not to drink alcohol for a year.

"If anything of this nature were to take place again, it's over," Begay said. "I'd lose all credibility with my sponsors and fans."

Begay has an endorsement contract with Nike. Nike officials have said the corporation's relationship with Begay has not changed because of the DWI case and have continued to stand behind him.

His popularity in Albuquerque and New Mexico also remains strong. Fans and the media have applauded how he has handled himself and his decision to make public his previous DWI arrest in Arizona.

"Not once during this period has Begay asked for special treatment or done anything other than own up to his responsibility to pay for his crime," said the Las Cruces Sun-News in an editorial published the day after Begay entered jail.

Begay's game in the early part of the new season has been steady if not spectacular. Through six events he's earned $250,188, including a tie for fourth at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

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