Tiger Shows Rust, as Well as Flashes of Brilliance in Victory

The eight month wait is over. The world’s number one player made his return to professional golf this afternoon at the Accenture Match Play Championships in Tucson, Arizona. Tiger Woods defeated the Australian  Brendan Jones 3&2 in the first round, and will face South African Tim Clark on Thursday.

If Tiger was nervous at all for his 2009 debut, he certainly didn’t show it. Woods stormed out of the gate with an impressive birdie on the first hole. Then he answered any lingering doubts about the strength of his surgically repaired left knee when he UNLEASHED on a driver off the 2nd tee. When the dust settled, Woods’ ball rested in the fairway, 330 yards from the tee box. He followed that up by hitting a sky high 3 iron from 238 yards, which came to rest 3 feet from the hole. A conceded eagle putt later, Woods was two up, and three under par through two holes. Welcome back.

For all intent and purposes, the match was over after that display. Unfortunately for Brendan Jones, the moment was much bigger than he was today. Jones struggled throughout, and did not pose a serious threat to Woods all day. I found myself feeling sorry for Jones who was unlucky number 64 for this event. It almost reminded me of how I felt for Peter McNeeley. McNeeley was the punching bag that was hand selected to face Mike Tyson in his comeback fight. The fight was all about Tyson. McNeeley was just a side story, an obstacle before the post fight press conference. It kind of appeared that way with Brendan Jones, who looked nervous from his first swing.

Then again, why shouldn’t have all of the focus been on Tiger? He is the the best player in the world, as well as the world’s most recognizable athlete. Woods dazzled in the onset, but had his share of struggles as well. Woods followed up his awesome start with three bogeys on his front nine. The majority of the miscues were from mental mistakes (which could be attributed to Woods’ lack of course knowledge, having never seen the course until this week) or the result of the occasional loose swing. Coming into the event, Tiger had said that his short game had “never been better”. Typically when a player has a long layoff, the short game is the last aspect you get back. With Woods being unable to swing a golf club for such a long period of time, he kept his sanity by grinding on the practice green. That hard work was on display today, as Woods was solid on, and around the green, displaying a nice touch on a several occasions.

Woods may have won easily today, but he will have to play more consistently if he is going to advance against stiffer competition in the later rounds. Even though he hasn’t played in eight months, he is still the best player in the world, and someone is going to have to beat him to stop him from claiming his 4th Accenture Match Play title. No one is really sure what to expect from Tiger this week, but no one would be surprised if he is the last one standing on Sunday.

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