Tiger Woods didn’t miss a beat on Wednesday as he launched his return from an eight-month lay-off with a first-round victory at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship.
Amid a storm of publicity, Woods serenely marched on his surgically repaired left knee to a three and two victory over Australian foil Brendan Jones.
Hundreds packed the L-shaped grandstands at the first tee at Dove Mountain and more lined the rails guarding the hole to see the superstar hit his first ball in earnest since his triumph at the US Open last June.
Clad in vibrant blue, Woods was still munching a banana as he strode to the tee box, where Jones already waited like the challenger in a prize fight.
While Jones gave a slight wave and self-conscious smile when he was introduced, Woods remained focused on his routine.
”Walking on the tee, I was just in my own little world, just trying to make sure that I knew what the number was to the bunker, where the wind was coming from … am I going to hit a flat three-wood, draw the ball, trying to decide what shot I want to hit.”
”Welcome back, buddy,” yelled one fan. ”You’re the man, and you are back.”
When the moment came, Woods belted his tee shot down the fairway and went on to take a one-up lead with a birdie at the par-four, 460-yard hole.
”As I walked off the first hole, it was just mayhem because media, everyone was just running and I was walking amongst everybody,” Jones said.
Although Jones had embraced his underdog status, he was dismayed to hear a journalist say ”All right, another nine holes to go for a 10 and 8.”
”Then [Woods] eagled the second and I thought, well, maybe he’s right,” Jones said.
In fact it wasn’t that easy. Even after Woods took a four-up lead with five to play, Jones made him work with an eagle of his own at 15.
And having a front-row seat for the show, Jones said, was a blast.
”I just had a ball out there,” he said. ”It was just fantastic.”
Woods was last seen limping to an epic US Open victory in June, after which he had major reconstructive surgery on his left knee.
His return had fans, sponsors, tournament organisers and broadcasters salivating.
The Golf Channel’s countdown clock showed the minutes and seconds to his tee time. Nike broke out an amusing TV ad pegged to his return.
In Woods’s absence, US television ratings for last year’s British Open and PGA Championship tumbled. Ticket sales at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, a tournament Woods has won six times, were down 15% to 20% in January. — Sapa-AFP