You know that feeling when you come back to work after a decent-length
vacation and even your most basic routines -- stopping for your morning
coffee, answering emails -- feel fresh and even a little strange? That's
how Tiger Woods looked during his morning practice round at the Accenture Match Play Championship in Tuscon, Ariz., on Tuesday.
Woods
appeared to be enjoying the little things during a round -- the jokes
with Steve Williams, a quick word with coach Hank Haney, a handshake
with NBC commentator Roger Maltbie -- that
he might have forgotten in the eight months he's been away from
competitive golf since his knee surgery last June. Even his sarcastic
comments about how he enjoys talking with the media lacked their usual
edge.
"I miss that rush of playing and competing, I really do,
getting out on the first tee and feeling it," Woods said following his
morning practice round. "As much as you can have money games at home
with the guys, it's not the same. This is what I do for a living, and
this is what I've always wanted to do my entire life, and not being
able to do that at the highest level was frustrating at times."
But as much as Woods missed golf, the game missed him more.
Fans and cameramen waited in darkness for Woods to arrive, and the
galleries for Woods's 7 a.m. practice round were as full as any you'd
see outside of a major for most PGA Tour players. In his media conference, Woods acknowledged how the PGA Tour is struggling to retain sponsors due to the economic downturn but
stopped short of saying he would play more events to help out.

"We
have to do more as players," Woods said. "We have to make sure the
sponsors are appreciated because without them we couldn't have the
playing opportunities we have, not just in the United States, but in
the world."
What he does bring to the PGA Tour is his almost unerring sense for the dramatic, last on
display when he won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on his injured knee
in a Monday playoff. (Woods admitted Tuesday that he almost can't believe it happened when he watches the highlights.) He'll have another great
stage at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. In addition to rewarding a personal sponsor,
Woods has picked a tournament for his long-awaited return that occurs
in the absolute dead zone of U.S. sports. Football is over, basketball
is in its pre-March
Madness lull and baseball's spring training games are basically
unwatchable. So if Woods decides to write another chapter in his legend this week, all sports fans across America will be tuning in and talking
about it.
No one would be happier than PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. Except maybe Alex Rodriguez.

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