Friday, February 20, 2009

He's back.

\nAfter rehabbing his injured left knee for almost eight months, Tiger Woods will return to the PGA Tour at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship next week in Arizona. Woods has not played competitively since he had reconstructive surgery on ligaments in his knee the day after his now legendary playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open last June.

\n"Elin and our new son Charlie are doing great. I've enjoyed my time at home with the family and appreciate everyone's support and kind wishes," Woods said on his Web site. "I'm now ready to play again."

\nWoods's return is welcome news for fans and especially the PGA Tour, which has seen ticket sales and TV ratings plummet in Woods's absence. Attendance at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines in February was down 30 percent without Woods, according to Tom Wilson, the tournament director.

\n"The 2009 Buick Invitational was truly different without having Tiger play for the first time in 11 years," Wilson said, adding that the slumping economy and threat of rain didn't help entice galleries either.

\n"One other factor that was very disappointing to us was that the local media didn't help the tournament as they continuously focused on which players weren't at the tournament — like Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Rocco Mediate — rather than promoting the great players we did have there, including Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Camilo Villegas, Retief Goosen and many others," Wilson said.

\nWoods's impact on TV ratings has been even more dramatic.

\n"There's no question that there's a 'Tiger Effect,'" CBS Sports President Sean McManus said. "Ratings are at least 50 percent higher when he's on the leaderboard on a weekend. That's just a fact."

\nMcManus said ratings have been down for PGA Tour programming on CBS since last June, partially because of Woods and also because stars like Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia have been playing fewer Tour events and appearing less often on the leaderboard. Woods's return "will be a welcome boost in the arm to the game," McManus said.

\nMany of Woods's fellow Tour pros will welcome his return as well. While young stars like Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas have emerged while Woods was recovering from surgery, Davis Love III compared golf without Woods to hockey in the 1980s without Wayne Gretzky and basketball in the 1990s without Michael Jordan.

\n"It's the same as we need Fred Couples back on top or Greg Norman or Nick Price or Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer," Love said. "We've always had the guy.

\n"But we miss him mostly as a friend. You know, I haven't seen him in, what, seven months or more. We can't wait to have him back."

\nFans can't wait to see how he'll perform. Woods has made triumphant returns after other injuries, including winning the Buick Invitational in February 2003 after knee surgery two months earlier. Even his 2008 U.S. Open win came after an eight-week break to recuperate from another knee surgery, this one immediately after the Masters. However, these eight months have been the longest layoff — by far — of Woods's career.

\nGolf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Brady Riggs, who had his own knee surgery a few years ago, said that he expects Woods to return better than ever.

\n"When your knee is injured, it's not the normal shots that bother you — it's the sidehill lies and the uphill lies," Riggs said. "But once the knee's fixed, it's as good as ever. I think Tiger will be better than he was. He'll be stronger and his body will allow him to hit more shots.

\n"If I was the rest of the PGA Tour, I'd be scared. I think he'll be even nastier than he was."

\nWoods's June 2008 reconstructive surgery, performed by Dr. Thomas D. Rosenberg and Dr. Vernon J. Cooley in Park City, Utah, was the fourth time Woods has had surgery on his left knee. He had a benign tumor removed in 1994, and he had benign cysts removed in 2002, along with fluid around the ACL, according to the Associated Press.

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