MARANA, Ariz. Tiger Woods hasn't lost his sense of humor. When he arrived at the media center for a press conference Tuesday morning after a practice round, he joked, "Sorry I'm late; I forgot how long it takes to play 18 holes walking."
Longer than it takes to play 18 holes at Isleworth while riding a cart, obviously.
Though Woods had talked with writers on a teleconference last week, this was his first face-to-face visit with the media since his return. He seemed enthused, happy to be at a golf tournament and excited about having a healthy leg for the first time in almost a decade.
His reconstructed knee was a prime topic of conversation, obviously, since the rest of his career rests on the outcome of the surgery. So far, Woods is thrilled with the results.
"I didn't think it would feel this good just because I hadn't known what it was like to feel this way, it's been so long," he said. "To have it feel this healthy and solid and secure, man, it's a great feeling.
"It's nice to make a swing and not have my bones move. Since I had no ACL for a number for years, it was always moving. It's nice to be able to hit into my left side for the first time. I'm doing the same things I've been trying to do, but now I have a leg I can do them on."
The rehab process was tough, Woods admitted. His advice? "Don't got through it," he said with a laugh. The first few months after surgery, when his mobility was limited, were particularly tough, he said. But the time spent at home with his family was something he enjoyed.
"It was a blessing in disguise to have an opportunity to see Sam grow that fast and that much," Woods said of his daughter. "I would have missed a lot of that, so I was very lucky there."
It has been a similar feeling with the recent birth of his son, Charlie. Woods said he has cut some practice sessions short to go home and spend time with the baby. It is no surprise, given the influence of Earl Woods, that Tiger has turned into a devoted family man.
"I didn't realize how much I love being home and around Sam and E and Charlie," Woods said. "I'll tell you what, that's something that is so important to me. I knew family would be, but I didn't know it would be to this degree, the closeness that I feel."
As for this week, Woods commented on the obvious: the greens on this new Jack Nicklaus design are clearly over the top.
"The greens are a little severe," Woods said. "The speed of the greens is down because if they ever got them up, you couldn't play. It'll be interesting to see how the tour sets up the pins. The greens have so much pitch and slope and movement, there aren't a lot of pin positions they can go to."
The state of his game, as far as he knows, is good. His practice sessions have gone well. His coach, Hank Haney, followed him around the course Tuesday morning, and Woods said he felt good during the round. He hit a number of good iron shots. (A detailed description of his practice round is here.)
The economy, of course, came up, but Woods wouldn't get specific about his foundation's involvement with Stanford Financial or Robert Allen Stanford, the indicted billionaire, other than to say that the foundation is "doing well." He said he agreed with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem that players have to work harder to make sure tournament sponsors feel they're getting value for their money.
"This is a very important year for us; we may be losing a few tournaments, and a lot of tournaments are coming up on their contract years," Woods said. "The Tour is obviously feeling it, just like any other business. Sponsors drive the events. They always have. We have to make sure the sponsors are really appreciated because we wouldn't be playing for the money that we're playing for and wouldn't have the opportunities we have without them."
Woods said his focus for the moment is his opening-round match against Brendan Jones on Wednesday. Asked what he knows about Jones, Woods answered with a grin, "Well, he's an Aussie. That's about it."
Their match will tee off at 2:02 p.m. EST.