I only have a fairly small aluminum tripod (53 cm / 21" folded, sans head), which fits inside my suitcase and is more than sturdy enough to take any abuse the luggage handlers might dish out, so I've never had any trouble with it. I assume yours is both bigger and more expensive, though, which could make things more problematic.
That said, I've had similar issues flying to a conference with a rolled-up poster (basically, a cardboard tube about 1 meter long), and my advice for that is simple: ask at check-in. They may be OK with you taking it as hand luggage (they always have, for me), especially if the plane is not too full. If not, they can give advice on how to pack and label it so as to minimize the risk of damage.
Anyway, if I had to pack a fancy expensive tripod for checked luggage, and was paranoid about it getting roughly handled, I might start by bringing a roll of bubble wrap. After wrapping the tripod (and its carrying bag, if you have one) in a layer of bubble wrap to cushion it, go find one of those luggage-wrapping machines they have at airports, that will let you seal the whole package inside a layer of what's basically heavy-duty cling film. Finally, decorate with plenty of "FRAGILE" stickers, just for good measure.
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