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Tiger Woods return boosts the world of golf

A tantalizing taste of Tiger Woods merely whetted the golf world's appetite for the game's mega-star.

With the golf industry feeling the heat of the global recession, Woods was just what the sponsors ordered, his reappearance at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship here sparking giddy anticipation.

"It's just great to have him back and healthy," said US veteran Davis Love. "You can hear them screaming out there. They weren't screaming on any other matches, but you could hear them screaming on his match. Just a lot of buzz, and that's what we needed."

Love noted that Woods's absence gave young players like Colombian Camilo Villegas and long-hitting American Dustin Johnson a moment in the spotlight.

"Now when he comes back you say, 'Well, I wonder if Camilo can beat Tiger on a Sunday. I wonder if Dustin Johnson can hit it past Tiger. Things like that are going to really help. But you have to have him back to take a shot at him."

While US Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has stressed that many of the tour's sponsors are signed up through 2010, many of those backers are in the troubled banking and financial industry.

Northern Trust Corporation, sponsor of the February tournament in Los Angeles, endured criticism for wining and dining clients at the tournament after receiving funds from the US Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Programme.

Morgan Stanley, sponsor of the Memorial Tournament in Ohio in June, received an injection of government funds - and has already said it won't send company representatives to the event.

But Woods's return offers beleagured backers the prospect of a bigger bang for their buck both at the course and on television, with his presence boosting attendance and ratings.

"We're glad to have him back and healthy, because he's driving the bus for us right now," Love said.

Woods showed barely a sign of rust on his return from an eight-month absence, which followed major reconstructive surgery on his left knee last June.

The American's second-round exit here could be chalked up as much to the vagaries of the format as to any weakness on his part, and there was no doubting the improved strength and stability in his surgically repaired knee.

"Stability is something I haven't had in years. So it's nice to make a swing and not have my bones move," said Woods, who was last seen hobbling and grimacing to a gritty US Open victory in June, when he outlasted Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff to win his 14th major title.

Barely more than a week later, surgery ended his 2008 season.

After Woods worked his way through a sometimes painful rehabilitation, he delayed his return a bit longer as he and wife Elin welcomed their second child, son Charlie Axel, to their family in February.

Upon his return, Woods said he was eager to feel the rush of competition - and he wasn't the only one feeling it when he walked to the first tee last week.

Just what Woods brings to any event was clear after South African Tim Clark ousted him in the second round at Dove Mountain here on Thursday.

"It's a little quieter," said South African Ernie Els on the Friday.

"Tiger's the big draw card. Obviously with him coming back he's always going to bring more people in here, so it was definitely a little bit quieter."

Having professed himself satisfied with his return to work, and pleased with how well his knee held up over two competitive matches, Woods headed home to see his family, leaving a question mark over the date of his next appearance.

Barring a problem with his knee it seemed likely that he might try to work in a couple of tournaments before the first major championship of the year, the Masters in April.

Likely candidates are two Florida tournaments, the WGC-CA Championship at Doral and the Arnold Palmer-hosted tournament at Bay Hill.

"My schedule is so up in the air," Woods said. "It's frustrating because I have to take it week to week. I don't know how the leg is going to feel next week and weeks going forward."


March 3, 2009

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