Commentary

Sobel's blog -- Tiger's return -- day one

Updated: February 26, 2009, 12:25 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Editor's Note: Jason Sobel's blog will return on Thursday to track Tiger's second-round match against Tim Clark.

7:00 p.m. ET: Thirty seconds after he had closed out Brendan Jones 3 and 2 in his opening-round match, Tiger Woods was surrounded by reporters, tournament officials and other bystanders. They were all looking at him; he was looking back at the action coming up the 16th hole.

Next Level Stats

Tiger's scoring (Final, through 16 holes)

Eagle Birdie Par Bogey
2 3 8 3

Tiger's driving accuracy Wednesday

Fairway hits Fairways missed Fairways missed left Fairways missed right
8/12 4 1 3

Tiger around the greens Wednesday

Sand saves Scramble pct. 1 putts 2 putts 3 putts
1/3 2/3 5 8 0
• On two holes, putts were conceded
• Made putt from fringe on No. 13 for eagle, which counts as 0 putts

Tiger on the rebound Wednesday

  Wins Halves Losses
Holes after wins 2 3 0
Holes after halves 1 5 2
Holes after losses 1 1 0
* Source: Compiled by Nathan Easler, ESPN Stats and Information Group

In the twosome right behind Woods and Jones all day was Tim Clark, who defeated Retief Goosen 3 and 2 just minutes after Tiger's triumph.

It would be reading too much into the situation to say that directly after beating one opponent, Woods was already looking ahead -- or back, if you want to get literal -- to his competition for Thursday's second-round match.

If you don't know Clark, get ready to become introduced Thursday, as the spotlight turns to him in his match against Woods. It's not a totally unfamiliar situation for the South African, who counts the 2006 Masters among his six career runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour; he has won just about everywhere but the U.S.

What should we expect from him Thursday? He's a pit bull who will claw onto Woods' leg early and never let go, but I think the No. 1 seed will be able to shake him loose at some point. Clark is a guy who is known more for making pars in bunches and committing few mistakes than for making lots of birdies; that style doesn't exactly suit this format. Then again -- and I realize this is purely hypothetical -- if you pit Woods' opening-round scorecard up against that of Clark, you'll notice that the underdog, ranked 32nd in the world, would have been 1-up through 16 holes.

That's a far cry from the 5 and 4 pounding that Woods offered him in this event two years ago, and I think it will be closer this time around.

Woods and Clark will tee it up at high noon Thursday -- 12:02 local time to be exact; 2:02 p.m. ET -- and I'll be right here following all the action from the course once again. Thanks for all the e-mails today -- more than 1,000 and counting so far; if I haven't written back to you, my apologies -- and let's do it again in Round 2. Until then, hit 'em straight ...

6:30 p.m. ET: Not the best round we've ever seen from Tiger, but considering the circumstances -- coming back from eight months off, testing out the knee for the first time in a competitive environment -- I think he's more than pleased with the end result.

Perhaps the biggest thing Woods should take out of this round is the fact that at various times, each part of his game -- driving the ball with both driver and 3-wood, iron play, bunker game, chipping and putting -- looked very strong during the match.

The biggest negative? Tough to say, really. He missed a few putts, but that's going to happen. Didn't pull driver much, but I'm guessing that was more strategic than a lack of confidence (we'll find out in his post-round interview session). Maybe it was his distance-control with his irons; Tiger is usually dead on with his distance, but today had a handful of approach shots that were either too long or too short.

All in all, though, a successful initial venture for Woods in 2009.


6:14 p.m. ET: From Tiger's Golf Channel interview with Kelly Tilghman ...

On his game: "I felt good. Got off to a quick start, which certainly helps. ... Hit some loose irons in the middle of the round, but got it back."

On his return: "I told Stevie, it felt like we hadn't been gone. Felt like business as usual. ... I thought I'd be more nervous than that."

On his knee: "It felt good. Felt for sure it would be more stiff on the 15th tee after that wait, but it felt good."


6:12 p.m. ET: And he does it!

That's a 3 and 2 win for Tiger. He moves on to Round 2.

About to be interviewed for the telecast ...


6:11 p.m. ET: Walking to the 16th green, with TW in a greenside bunker and Jones safely on the putting surface, one of my colleagues calmly stated, "This could be the greatest comeback in the history of golf."

Maybe, but let's not give up on the No. 1 seed just yet.

Jones just two-putted, leaving Tiger with a shorty to halve the hole and win the match ...


6:07 p.m. ET: E-mail from Sam in San Fran:

Re: Clark-Goosen, I'm willing to bet Goosen is folding like a cheap suit because he doesn't want to face the wrath of Tiger with the eyes of the world watching. See: Ames, Sabbatini.

A lot of others are making the same point, but seriously, there's no way Goose is bagging it just so he won't have to face TW. As far as storylines go, however, that would have been a better one than Woods vs. Clark -- for obvious reasons.


6:03 p.m. ET: Biggest upset of the day? Nothing you can find in the brackets. It's the fact that I have yet to be swallowed by a giant cactus. They're everywhere.

I've even been warned that there are even "jumping" cacti, which will reach out and bite you if you get too close. Not exactly a blogger's best friend.


6:01 p.m. ET: Onward we go!

Jones holes a 7-footer for eagle to cut his deficit to 3 down with three to play. If this thing was closer, that would have been extremely clutch by him.

Even so, it still qualifies.

5:59 p.m. ET: Tiger misses the eagle attempt. Jones makes him mark, though it looks inside the leather.


5:56 p.m. ET: E-mail of the day so far from Brock in Parts Unknown:

In the Bobby Jones bracket, Tiger Woods is facing opponent B. Jones. When I saw that this morning on the bracket I thought Tiger would be in for a tough day. Turns out, this is Brendan, not Bobby, and they are likely not related.

Probably not. But still funny.


5:53 p.m. ET: Uh, or maybe not.

Woods knocks 3-wood -- yes, 3-wood! -- to the front of the green.

I'll give him a two-putt from there. Jones, who is also on the green, may need to make his putt to keep the match alive.

Of course, even that may not be good enough ...


5:49 p.m. ET: E-mail from James in Parts Unknown:

I hope Woody doesn't tighten up during the wait at 15.

He's been taking a few practice swings and stretching his back, but that's gotta to be a worry for every player, as the wait here is stretching to 20 minutes and beyond.

He does look like he's starting to "loosen up" a bit, though. He said something to the bystanders behind the ropes that drew a chuckle and now Tiger, Stevie, Jones and Jones' caddie Ron Levin are having a little discussion while waiting around.

Oh, and bad news for those who wanna see the big dog eat -- Woods has pulled 3-wood.


5:43 p.m ET: Just got a glimpse of Tiger's potential second-round opponent ... and it looks to be Tim Clark.

With Allenby and Fisher just now teeing off, there are now three groups on the tee. In the twosome behind Woods/Jones is Clark, who currently is 3-up on Retief Goosen.

Not that he cares right now, but in my eyes, this should be received as good news for Tiger.

Goosen has proven himself to be a more adept match-play competitor over the years and would be a tougher out for Woods. Clark is a very solid player, but plays his best golf on tough courses where par is a good score. He's not exactly a birdie machine and, quite frankly, I'm surprised the short-hitter is playing so well on such a long track.

Unless something strange happens, though -- and strange things do happen here -- it looks like we'll see an awful lot of Tim Clark tomorrow.


5:40 p.m. ET: While we're waiting ... e-mail from Brent in Boca Grande, Fla.:

Many people doubt the return of Tiger and his ability to get back into the swing of competition. After watching him strike the ball today, can you officially say these people are crazy? He is the best player to play the game. Why would anyone think he would not pick up just like he left the U.S. Open?

I've been saying the same thing for months. He may not come back better than before, but there's no way he's going to be worse. And if he can win the year's most brutal tournament on a torn ACL and multiple leg fractures, he can win any place, any time.

Apparently, Woods has been trying to steal my thunder. Word out of Camp Woods is that he's been echoing these sentiments all along.


5:36 p.m. ET: That sound you just heard? A screeching halt on the 15th tee.

Waiting on the group ahead of them (who may very well have been waiting on the group ahead of them, too), Robert Allenby and Ross Fisher are still waiting on the tee box as Woods and Jones make their way here.

There's good reason, though. At 343 yards, this is a drive-able par-4 -- in my opinion, the best kind of risk/reward, strategic hole that the match play format has to offer.

Can't wait to see which club these guys pull off the tee here.


5:32 p.m. ET: And he does it.

Nice save by Jones and Woods is now 4-up with four to play.

For the neophytes among us, what that means is that unless Jones can win each of the next four holes, Woods will advance. And if he does that, they'll move to the 19th hole -- no, not the bar -- and play No. 1 again.

In layman's terms? You can put Tiger's name into the second round of your bracket. In permanent marker.


5:31 p.m. ET: Tiger for that match ... it doesn't drop for him.

That leaves Jones with a comebacker to extend the match ...


5:27 p.m. ET: If it ends here, the vans are ready.

There are a pair of minivans parked right near the green, ready to whisk Woods and Jones away to the clubhouse should Tiger close out the match right here.

The rest of us? We've got to trudge through the cacti and hot sun. Very hot sun.

In related news, I just went Robert-Jan Derksen for the first time all day. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out the latest Weekly 18 -- all 8,000 words or so.)


5:21 p.m. ET: E-mail from Chad in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

Is Tiger still walking slowly behind?

Nah, though remember, that was never my observation; a colleague thought so, but I wasn't buying it.

He isn't running down the fairways, but it's not as if he's sashaying like Fred Couples out here. No limping, no wincing. If you really want to analyze his 40-yard walk time against what he was doing last year, I suppose it might be a second or two slower, but it's hardly noticeable.


5:15 p.m. ET: Uh-oh. Somebody learned how to putt.

I think that short game of Tiger's is finally starting to come around. On 11, he barely missed a lengthy birdie putt. On 12, he chipped it close. And on 13, he just holed a long eagle putt to essentially close out this match.

Woods is now 4-up with five holes to play. If he wins this hole, it's a 5 and 4 victory. If they halve, he's got Jones dormie with four to play.


5:09 p.m. ET: E-mail from Mike in DC:

Not sure if this happens to everyone, including Tiger, but I thought I'd mention it. Whenever I'm teeing it up for the first time of the year, especially after a long layoff, things seem to go great for the first few holes. However by hole 5, I'm reminded by my ever-inflating score why I still pay to play. Perhaps Tiger had the same 'amateur experience' for his first few holes, and then the long layoff crept into his head?

Mike, I don't know, so I'm just guessing here ... but Tiger Woods is better than you. Much better. In fact, you're not even playing the same game.

I don't think the long layoff is "in his head," but I do believe that, physically, it may just take some time to -- as I said earlier -- shake off the rust.


5:01 p.m. ET: Great chip by Woods to within inches, followed by a two-chip by Jones.

That gives another hole to Tiger. He's now 3-up with six to play. Hasn't played great by any means today, but Jones really hasn't put up much of a fight.

I'll make two predictions right now:

1. If Woods plays like this for the rest of the week, he won't make it past the third round.

2. Woods won't play like this for the rest of the week.

Expect him to keep getting better as he shakes off the rust. If someone is going to get him, they'd better do it early.


4:57 p.m. ET: E-mail from Ross in Chicago:

Other than the awe factor of playing with him, how enjoyable could it be to be paired with him when he says nothing all day?

Enjoyable? It's not like Woods called up Jones, said, "Hey, buddy, let's go play 18," then refused to talk to him all day.

It's supposed to be made enjoyable by playing well and winning. If they wanted someone to entertain, Bill Murray is probably available.

This isn't supposed to be happy fun time. It's a job.


4:51 p.m. ET: First "oooohhhhhhh" putt of the day from TW. He misses a lengthy one for birdie and gives it the ol' doubled-over-in-pain look.

Jones matches that par, but again, halves are good for Woods, bad for Jones.

Tiger still leads, 2-up, through 11.


4:40 p.m. ET: Getting a lot of questions about Tiger's mental state today. Is he focused? What's his demeanor? Is he talking to Jones?

Let me answer each one ...

First of all, Tiger ALWAYS looks focused. It's the same "eye of the Tiger," to use an old cliche, that we've seen for years.

Other than a few occurrences of muttering under his breath, Woods looks purely robotic. No fooling around, no chasing butterflies, no checking out cloud formations.

I mean, did you expect any less?

No talking, either. Other than saying, "That's good," a few times to Jones, he hasn't uttered a word, other than those to Stevie or himself.


4:36 p.m. ET: E-mail from Mark in Parts Unknown:

How interactive is Hank Haney at the moment. Can you tell if they're working on anything specific or is he just keeping a watchful eye?

Mark, Mark, Mark. C'mon, man, you know the rules. A player can't be coached by anyone but his caddie while on the course. In fact, I haven't even seen Hank since the practice range. Good chance he's watching on TV in the clubhouse.


4:30 p.m. ET: So much for Frank's absence.

Tiger again goes to the driver on No. 11 -- second time all day, I believe.

As I wrote earlier, I don't understand why he isn't going with the driver more frequently. Plenty of room to miss here.

Just maybe not on that last one. Fairway bunker. Ouch.


4:26 p.m. ET: Another halve on No. 10, which is good for Tiger, bad for Jones.

Believe me, TW will take seven more of those and though he may not be enamored with how he played, he'll like the result.


4:15 p.m. ET: Remember what I said earlier about knowing Tiger likes his tee shot when you see the twirl?

Well, here's a sign he isn't too happy: Woods drops his left hand off the club after impact. Doesn't look like it was a terrible shot, but not ideal.

Oh, and yes: A 3-wood once again.


4:10 p.m. ET: After driving to within about 5 feet of each other off the tee, Jones knocks his approach inside of Woods.

Tiger from pin-high, maybe 35 feet away or so ... and it's not close. Well short of the hole.

Tiger cleans up for par, concedes Jones' par, and Woods leads 2-up at the turn.


4:04 p.m. ET: E-mail from Chris in Parts Unknown:

Any sign of rust on Tiger's short game?

Not really, but not too much to go on so far. And this may not be the greatest course to gauge his short game, either. Like I wrote earlier, the contoured, somewhat slow greens aren't exactly ideal. But, yeah -- so far, so good.


4:01 p.m. ET: After losing the honors for one hole, Tiger is first to tee off on No. 9 and -- surprise, surprise -- chooses 3-wood once again.

Gotta wonder whether Frank the head cover will get off his butt and see any more action in today's round.

3:57 p.m. ET: Tiger pours in about a 10-footer for birdie on No. 8 to win the hole -- his first since the second -- and he's now back to 2-up heading to the last hole on the front side.

Crucial moment for Jones. He can come back from 2-down, but 3-down? Much, much tougher.


3:47 p.m. ET: I still have yet to see any signs of Woods favoring his left knee, but one colleague just pointed out that he seems to be taking his time walking up the fairways.

To back up his case, this person pointed out that Steve Williams is often walking some 50-100 yards ahead of his player.

Personally, I think Stevie is just quick to get the yardages since TW is often hitting 3-wood and the first to play his second shot -- and that's why Woods is slow in getting up there -- but maybe there's something to it.


3:44 p.m. ET: This is becoming a trend.

Once again, Tiger eschews driver in favor of 3-wood on the eighth hole. He's hitting it well, so no reason to stop, but still have to wonder about the rationale on a course with such wide fairways.


3:40 p.m. ET: Brendan Jones isn't going away.

And Tiger Woods isn't keeping up that hot start.

Woods makes bogey on No. 7 -- he's now even-par for the day -- and Jones two-putts for par to win his first hole of the day.

Tiger now leads, 1-up.


3:37 p.m. ET: Those wind gusts I spoke about earlier are just now starting to take hold. Other than that, perfect conditions.

And very sunny. My FBR Open sunburn is starting to get a sunburn. That's probably not good.


3:31 p.m. ET: Congratulations to Brendan Jones, who has just introduced himself to the fairway for the first time today.

But let's not bury the lede: Jones' driver is some 30 yards past Tiger's 3-wood. Not every day you see a playing partner so far past Woods, even if he isn't hitting driver.


3:26 p.m. ET: Tiger's birdie attempt barely misses the hole. Jones, who uses one of those gangly long putters is next ...

And he misses, too.

Four straight halved holes after Tiger's birdie-eagle start. He's still 2-up.


3:20 p.m. ET: Tee shot on the par-3 sixth ... Tiger hits a nice fade ... looks like it's all over the stick ... and ... nothing.

Not even a polite golf clap.

Looks like he could have used one club less, but it's not awful -- on the middle of the green, about 30 feet above the hole.


3:17 p.m. ET: That's exactly what he does, but it doesn't exactly go according to plan, as Jones holes his bogey attempt to halve the hole.

Woods remains 2-up through five.


3:15 p.m. ET: Jones is making a mess of things on the long par-4 fifth hole. Drove it into the rough, laid up, hit his third shot over the green and just left his chip short of the hole coming back.

That leaves about an 8-footer for Woods. He can two-putt from here and likely win the hole.


3:12 p.m. ET: I don't understand why, but for some reason this has been the most popular e-mail question of the day. From Alex in Fort Worth, Texas:

I wonder how exactly you are able to follow the group and type as well? I am envisioning some sort of contraption like a peanut vendor or one man band with the laptop strapped around your neck and waist allowing you to walk and type at the same time.

It's called a BlackBerry. Comes in hands for times like this.

Of course, I am doing a lot of walking around without looking up. No doubt I'll meet my demise in a cactus collision at some point.


3:09 p.m. ET: Tiger goes right again off the tee, but finds the rough for the first time all day.

Doesn't like the swing and he's muttering to himself again.


3:05 p.m. ET: Seen in the crowd: Several fans wearing t-shirts in the gallery:

"PGA Tour Stimulus Package: Tiger Woods"

That's no lie.

Don't be surprised if today's Golf Channel telecast sets a mark for the highest ratings in its 15-year history.


3:03 p.m. ET: I suspected as much earlier, but just received confirmation that TW is in fact NOT wearing any sort of knee brace or support.


2:59 p.m. ET: Tiger misses his birdie attempt. Jones makes par. (Told you so.)

Remains at 2-up in favor of Woods through four holes.

2:58 p.m. ET: Nice shot by Jones to about 2 feet. Tiger doesn't concede it, but I will. Let's call it a par.

Speaking of Jones, he sort of has a Henrik Stenson look about him, though a few inches shorter and not as broad.

Never a bad thing to be compared with Stenson at this event, where he's played so well.


2:56 p.m. ET: Two words: Dialed in.

Tiger plays a nice draw to about 25 feet short of the hole. Jones had to lay up and will be chipping his third.


2:52 p.m. ET: Tiger seems to be favoring the right side of the fairway today -- which is never a bad thing.

He's back there again on No. 4. Meanwhile, Jones is right of right and may need to avoid getting eaten by a cactus while getting to his next shot.


2:48 p.m. ET: On a putt that looked like it should have had a windmill involved, Woods missed the downhill slider to the left, then conceded Jones' bogey.

There you go -- no chance of a 10 and 8 today, for all the e-mailers who were insinuating it was a possibility.


2:46 p.m. ET: Woods' bunker shot fails to use the slope behind the hole to come back. Instead, he's on top of it with a testy 15-footer downhill coming up.

Still very much in it, though. Jones -- perhaps showing a touch of the nerves -- putted well past the hole and now has a lengthy one coming back for par.


2:42 p.m. ET: With Tiger in the bunker, here's a chance for Jones to pick up a hole. He's just off the back left of the green.


2:39 p.m. ET: First poor shot of the day for Tiger.

On the par-3 third, he hits a high cut that caroms off the bank and into a greenside bunker, punctuated by an, "Are you kidding me?" from Woods.


2:32 p.m. ET: Wow.

I had thought Tiger's biggest problem entering this match may be the adrenaline factor, but he's using that in his favor so far.

Woods just smoked his second shot on the par-5 second hole to about 3 feet.

Yes, his second shot.

After Jones missed his birdie putt, he conceded the eagle. I have a feeling TW would have made it anyway.

That's 3-under through two holes. Tiger is now 2-up.


2:28 p.m. ET: Apparently, Woods' swing is better than my eyesight.

He did indeed fade it, but perfectly from left to -- again -- the right side of the fairway.

As for the prospect of losing distance? That one was lasered at 330 yards. That'll do.


2:25 p.m. ET: Tiger hits driver on No. 2. Actually faded this ball and it stayed a little left.

As one fellow observer just mentioned, he's done the patented twirl on each of his first two tee shots so far. That's when you know he likes it.


2:22 p.m. ET: After Jones hit a nice bunker shot to about 3 feet, Woods renders it meaningless, pouring in the birdie effort.

Let the record show: One hole, one birdie for TW so far this year.

He's 1-up.


2:19 p.m. ET: From the right side of the fairway, Tiger zinged one to about 8 feet or so.

Hmmm, so much for easing his way back into things.


2:11 p.m. ET: There are a LOT of people following this group today -- and that's just inside the ropes.

As Woods and Jones walked off the tee, the number of media members following them was something more than a throng or a group -- convoy might be the best word for it. I'd say at least a few hundred here in attendance.

I knew I should have blogged the K.J. Choi/Oliver Wilson match instead.


2:08 p.m. ET: Tiger makes his way to the first tee -- eating another banana. OK, enough with the potassium, dude.

Just as he did on the range, Woods picks a 3-wood to start his season. Only one, "Quiet down!" from Stevie, then he rips one, well, somewhere.

By the crowd's reaction, I'm guessing it was good. Then again, the crowd would yell if he picked his nose.


2:06 p.m. ET: Things I didn't think I'd see: Just before Tiger makes his way to the first tee, a gentleman hurriedly ran by and asked, "Did Cink and Sterne go this way?"

Uh, yeah.

Off he went. Tiger who?


2:04 p.m. ET: Nice smattering of applause for Brendan Jones, who gets to the tee before Woods.

As he acknowledges the crowd, one fan yells, "Lucky draw!"

Funny. Kinda.


2:01 p.m. ET: So much for that high noon (local time) showdown.

Stewart Cink and Richard Sterne are tied through 18 holes, which means they're right back at No. 1 to continue their match, delaying Tiger's return by another 8 minutes or so.


1:57 p.m. ET: Interesting look from the stands behind the first tee, as a phallic cactus is sticking straight up from the bleachers.

As one PGA Tour media official told me in the line of the week so far, "Even the cactus is excited about Tiger's return."


1:52 p.m. ET: I'm now on the first tee box, ready to give a blow-by-blow account of ... Stewart Cink and Richard Sterne.

Poor guys.

This twosome will be in the crossfire with fans jostling for position just to see Tiger's group coming through shortly.

In related news, I just elbowed my way to a nice seat on the first tee box.


1:48 p.m. ET: After leaving the range, Tiger came back to the practice green.

Hit maybe a half-dozen bunker shots, now he's rolling some putts. Looks like he's just trying to get a feel for the speed and contours (and there are lots of contours on these greens) than his stroke itself.


1:42 p.m. ET: The last time I saw a standing ovation for a practice session was ... never.

Until now.

Woods just ended his practice time at the range to raucous applause from the crowd.

Expect to see even more of this on the course, as fans often have a tendency to clap, cheer, scream, hoot, holler, and shout, "You da maaaaaaaannnnnnnn!!!!!" before ever knowing the location of where his shot wound up.

New rule, people: If he hits a good one, by all means, go nuts. If he doesn't, though, refrain from the reverence until a time when he really deserves it.


1:36 p.m. ET: For the record, I have yet to notice any sort of knee problem or concerns from Tiger -- and I don't expect to, either.

In fact, when I sat down for an interview with him on Oct. 21 just outside of L.A., I couldn't tell he had undergone surgery just four months earlier. He was wearing shorts and, honestly, it took me 10 seconds of staring from 3 feet away to notice the smallest scar on his left knee.

Later, I saw him jog down a dew-covered sidehill, hopping over a "CAUTION: SLIPPERY" sign.

I knew right then that he would be just fine.


1:31 p.m. ET: E-mail from Steve in L.A.:

Much has been critiqued about Tiger's "knee-snap" maneuver -- where his left heel leaves the ground as he snaps, extends, and rotates his left knee during full release, thus generating that extra power and distance, and the etiology of his knee problems. Any sign of that today?

Not seeing it so far. Tiger has always maintained that he never swings 100 percent -- it's usually only 90-95 off the tee. (Think of your Tiger Woods video game and simply not generating full power with the swing.) If that's the case, he looks to be going at it at about 80-85 percent today.

That doesn't mean he's protecting the knee or not hitting as far; it may simply mean he's found a little more ryhthm.

Or it means I just can't remember what his swing looked like eight months ago.


1:28 p.m. ET: Tiger just ate a banana.

Apparently, the increased potassium in his system has given him the strength to hit driver.

He's hit a few and, well, not great results so far. Pulling it a little left and he looks concerned.

Oops -- scratch that. Just crushed one. And another. I can't type fast enough.


1:23 p.m. ET: After hitting a bunch of 3-woods off the deck, Tiger is now teeing 'em low and letting 'em go.

Wonder how much we'll see this move off the tee today. On a 7,849-yard course -- yes, 7849!! -- with wide fairways, I'd expect mostly driver, but we'll see.


1:21 p.m. ET: I know I said this blog is all Tiger, all the time today, but Anthony Kim just walked past me.

Thinking he was supposed to be on the course, I checked the scoreboard and found that he did indeed have an early tee time ... and is already done, having polished off Lin Wen-tang, 7 and 5.

Wow.


1:18 p.m. ET: Woods is now working his way through his fairway woods -- no driver yet -- and he hasn't missed one yet. Literally, every single shot has been dead-on-a-line, not more than a yard or two of a draw, if that.


1:15 p.m. ET: E-mail from "TW" in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.:

Do you know if Tiger is wearing any kind of knee brace or sleeve on the left knee?

I don't know, to tell you the truth. Doesn't appear to be, but he's wearing dark slacks, which would make it even tougher to diagnose if he was.

My guess is no, but again, it's just a guess.


1:14 p.m. ET: Tiger is now eating trail mix. And I'm blogging about it. Crazy, huh?


1:12 p.m. ET: Looks like Tiger has now moved his way into the mid-irons -- I'm guessing a 6-iron or so -- still hitting a high draw. Will be interesting to see how often he goes to this shot today, considering how much he's hitting it on the range.


1:08 p.m. ET: After Tiger's most recent swing, caddie Steve Williams turned to Hank Haney and simply nodded his head, to which Haney did the same.

They obviously like what they see.


1:06 p.m. ET: Some changes to Woods' arsenal: He now has a prominently displayed silver "V" on the left side of his cap to promote the Nike Victory Red line of irons. New half-grey, half-white spikes that I've never seen before, also by Nike. And the Buick logo is (obviously) gone from his bag, replaced by AT&T.


1:03 p.m. ET: Tiger is currently hitting what looks to be a pitching wedge. Nice, high draw, great rhythm.


12:58 p.m. ET: Just followed Tiger from the practice green to the range. Ran into his instructor Hank Haney and asked him how Woods looks.

He just smiled, gave me a thumbs up and said, "We'll see!"

Tiger has now taken a spot at the far left end of the range, concluding a murderer's row that progresses, in order: Woods-Harrington-Singh.

FYI, expect the updates to be quicker and shorter from here on in.


12:51 p.m. ET: Just walked over to the putting green, where two players are rolling putts -- Boo Weekley and Tiger Woods.

(And yes, Tiger is wearing "blue," though turquoise or aqua might describe it better.)

Woods is just knocking two balls around the green; it looks like he's working on his speed a little bit.

Not sure I can tell anything about his current stroke from how he's rolling 'em on the practice surface, but I will say this much: Prior to the third round of last year's U.S. Open, I watched as TW repeatedly missed short putt after short putt. Just as I was about to think it may not be his day, he rolled in a 50-footer. And later that day, he made two eagles from that distance in what I still think is the greatest six-hole stretch of his career.


12:47 p.m. ET: Still no Tiger. In the meantime, let's go to this e-mail from Jc in Parts Unknown:

What do you think about Tiger's draw? I think Tiger has the toughest draw of the top 4 seeds having to play winners this year (Ogilvy, McIlroy) as well as a re-inspired Goosen. If he makes the final four, he has a host of winners this year that he may face, including the Johnsons (Dustin and Zach), 2 legends (Els and Singh), and Phil who just won last week.

You're right; it is a tough draw. As I've written already this week, having Tim Clark/Retief Goosen as the "8-9 game" is akin to the NCAA stacking the brackets in the college hoops tournament. And it likely won't get any easier for Tiger if he continues past that point.

Then again, I'm not sure there's an "easy" bracket in this thing. The Hogan bracket -- with Vijay Singh, Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Stewart Cink, etc. -- might be the toughest, but none are easy.


12:41 p.m. ET: Here comes the buzz.

One gentleman just hurriedly came to the driving range, telling a cohort, "Tiger's coming! And he's wearing blue!"

Still don't see him, but according to this guy it should be any minute now.


12:24 p.m. ET: Still no sign of Tiger at the range, which isn't surprising; there are some players scheduled to begin 40 minutes from now, but have yet to show.

No sign of Tiger's opponent, Brendan Jones, either. But no matter what, this guy has already acquitted himself well this week. In fact, the guy is pretty funny.

When asked if he'd gotten a chance to ask his fellow Aussies about what it takes to beat Woods, Jones said, "No, I haven't had a chance to speak to Nick O'Hern or Peter O'Malley, but I spoke with Stephen Ames and he had some good advice for me."

That's what we call "inside-golf" humor.

As for a joke that anyone can relate to, Jones said, "First thing I will probably say to Tiger is, you know, 'Can I have three a side?' Maybe one more on the front in case I don't get to the back."

At least I think he was joking.

And sure, Jones may have been fawning over his opponent a bit too much, but it's better than the alternative; other players have thrown fuel on Tiger's fire and only provided more motivation. Not Jones, though.


12:07 p.m. ET: E-mail from Steve in California:

I'm still surprised Tiger came back at this event, rather than Bay Hill or Doral. I figured they were closer to his Florida home and family, courses he feels more comfortable on, and he would have a chance to win even with a rusty first round. Your thoughts?

When I originally tried to plot his schedule prior to the start of the season, I thought Doral was the logical place because of the reasons you just mentioned, plus the fact that he's won there, it's a flat course and he'd be guaranteed 72 holes since there's no cut. But ultimately his decision came down to one thing: He's ready.

I could rehash all the pros and cons on why he should or shouldn't return at this tournament, but I've already written about them.


12:02 p.m. ET: Getting a bunch of early questions about the weather and the course -- and how each will affect Tiger today. Let's examine ...

Temps are supposed to get into the low-to-mid 80s today. It's probably about 72 right now, the epitome of perfect weather; after an hour or so outside, I just returned to the media center to lose the light jacket I've been wearing. There's a slight breeze, maybe 10 mph, but that's expected to increase throughout the day. By this afternoon, it's been estimated that we could have steady winds of 10-15 mph, with gusts up to 30 mph.

On the surface, that's good news for Tiger. After all, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, right? I always believe that poorer conditions are directly proportional to the chances of the game's best players in relation to their competition. Then again, Jones is from Australia. Can't say I know much about his iron play, but most Aussies tend to be very good wind players. We will see.

As for the course, much like The Gallery -- the course down the street that hosted this event during the last two years -- it features wide fairways and big greens. Anytime you give TW more room to miss off the tee, he's dangerous. In the first nine holes of yesterday's practice round, he missed only one fairway -- and that was when a camera went off in his backswing. (He re-teed and piped one down the middle.) If he mimics that today, he'll be in great shape.


11:45 a.m. ET: First e-mail of the week, from Peter in Georgia:

You can't compare the '55 US Open playoff to the Accenture: while the Open playoff was a heads-up match, it still wasn't played in Match Play format. Because of the different dynamics of the actual Match Play format, it's impossible to say that the Hogan loss was more unlikely than a potential Tiger defeat, thereby debunking your debunkery.

I'd love to debunk your debunking of my debunkery, but ... you're right, I'm wrong. Let me amend to say that a loss by Tiger today wouldn't be the biggest "head-to-head" upset in history. That work better?


11:38 a.m. ET: Less than three hours before Tiger's tee time, there are already hundreds of fans bordering the practice range, dozens of media members hovering, because hitting shots right nearby is the one, the only ... Ryo Ishikawa.

The 17-year-old from Japan can't tie his shoes without having a hundred photographs taken -- and he's not even in the field! As the third alternate, he's just hanging out at the range, but certainly won't get into the field this week.

(In related news, still no sign of Tiger.)

It leads me to another point, though: While most of the previous live blogs -- OK, all of 'em -- were more about the tournament than any one player, this one is all-Tiger, all the time. So for those of you asking how Alvaro Quiros looks on the range (his swing reminds me of Stewart Cink; that's a compliment) or my dark-horse pick to win (Andres Romero; his game sets up perfectly for this format), the blog will be less about that this week and more Tiger, Tiger, Tiger.


11:08 a.m. ET: Since there's a possibility that some of you reading this in the Tucson area may be taking a half-day and coming down to the course, I've enlisted the world's foremost Tiger Woods follower to provide some tips to maximize the experience. Bob Smiley is the author of "Follow the Roar," in which he spent the 2008 season watching every one of Tiger's shots, from Dubai to Torrey Pines. (Must be nice to work for only six months, huh?) The book is a great read, and Bob knows his stuff better than anyone, so if you're planning to exclusively watch Woods -- whether it's today or any other time -- clip and save these notes:

1. No bathroom breaks. No matter how enticing the thought of using a porta-potty might seem, while following Tiger there is no time to answer nature's call. Just try not to think about those Flomax commercials that play non-stop during PGA Tour events. This is also made easier if you follow Rule No. 2.

2. No beer runs. I get it. You're not at work. You're hot. The line looks sort of short ... but in order to catch back up, you will have spilled most of what you just bought anyway. Save it for after the round when you can savor it and use it to ease the aches and pains of a five-hour hike.

3. Assume Tiger will make short putts. If he is sizing up any putt less than 4 feet, move to the next hole. He'll make it. If he doesn't, the fans who stayed behind will let you know.

4. Know the course. Marshals are well intentioned, but when Tiger is near, they tend to overreact and stop traffic until he's gone. With some local knowledge, you can circumvent the problem or even better, be ahead of the mob when it gets corralled. Either way, you'll have an up close view of his next shot.

5. RUN! If for whatever reason you do fall behind (a pulled hammy, dehydration, your pal swears he sees Tiger's wife), you're left with only this option. Sure, you haven't sprinted since freshman year P.E., but if you don't, well, who knows what you might miss? I guarantee there are golf fans in San Diego who are still cursing themselves for not running all the way to the 13th green at Torrey Pines last June, convinced that there was no way Tiger would really make that 60-foot eagle putt. With Tiger, anything is possible.

Listen to the man. Want more? Click this link and buy his book. If you don't like it, I'll tell Bob to give your money back. (He won't do it, but I will tell him.)


10:49 a.m. ET: No sight of Tiger yet on the practice facilities, so before we get started in earnest, let's debunk a few myths that may be floating around ...

This is the "most anticipated return in the history of golf."
While that may be true -- and, really, there's no way we can confidently quantify such a thing -- it is hardly the most dramatic or awe-inspiring return to the game. That, my friends, will always belong to Ben Hogan, who after a near-fatal car accident, came back after an 11-month layoff, only to be defeated by Sam Snead at the 1950 Los Angeles Open. That's right. Near-fatal car accident beats knee surgery, 9 and 8, any day.

If Tiger loses, it will be the greatest upset in match play history.
It may be the greatest upset in Match Play history -- note the capitalization to reflect this specific event -- though Peter O'Malley's victory over Woods in the opening round nine years ago was right there, too. But as for the all-time results in this format, again the "honor" goes to Hogan, who lost to club pro Jack Fleck in an 18-hole playoff at the 1955 U.S. Open. Once more, putting it into match play terms, U.S. Open beats the Accenture, 9 and 8.

If Tiger loses, it's because he came back too soon.
When Woods returned after a nine-week absence following his father Earl's death in 2006, then missed the cut at the U.S. Open, he acknowledged that he had come back too soon and wasn't mentally prepared to play. If he loses today -- or any other day this week -- there will be no such rationale. During his conference call with the media last week, I asked Woods whether, hypothetically, wife Elin hadn't been due with son Charlie in early February, he would have been able to return sooner than the Match Play. His response? "Probably, yes." This isn't a guy who's a bit tentative to get back out there; if anything, he's overdue.


10:02 a.m. ET: Being a golf writer is hardly the world's most important job, and I have no illusions to the contrary. (When was the last time an airline passenger became ill and the flight attendants asked whether there was a golf writer aboard the plane? Exactly.) And yet, once in a while, we can provide a somewhat valuable service by keeping fans moderately informed and mildly entertained, serving as the on-scene eyes and ears for readers with frequent reports, detailed analyses and the use of a few vague adverbs like the ones in this sentence.

I've never felt more important -- scratch that, "helpful" -- than during last year's 18-hole playoff at the U.S. Open and subsequent one-hole sudden death.

You see, there's a quixotic relationship between this online live blogging gig and professional golf's biggest events, as the largest amount of people are interfacing during the least dramatic periods of the tournament -- namely, business hours Thursday and Friday, when the opening two rounds are just beginning to provide a glimpse into the theater that will unfold on the weekend.

The extra day at Torrey Pines, however, provided a perfect storm for live blogging purposes. Commencing on Monday, June 16 at noon ET/9 a.m. PT, the playoff would be played during work and school hours in every time zone of this country, save Hawaii. For those who couldn't deal with the guilt of a not-really-sick call and didn't have the option of lounging in front of the HD TV, this provided an opportunity for me to serve as the aforementioned eyes and ears, providing a running commentary throughout the day.

Important? Nah, but I've been told it was pretty helpful.

Of course, interest in the playoff increased tenfold with the inclusion of Tiger Woods, who had been competing on a torn ACL in his left knee and multiple stress fractures to his leg -- although we didn't know the extent of these injuries at the time. A clutch 12-foot birdie putt Sunday afternoon meant another day on the course for the world's most famous athlete.

You know the rest of the story. Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in that sudden-death playoff, calling it the greatest victory of a career littered with great victories, then underwent surgery and hasn't competed in tournament play since.

Until today.

We now are exactly T-minus four hours and counting until Woods hits his first competitive shot in the public eye since tapping in for that winning par against Mediate. Once again, the spectacle of Tiger on a weekday lends itself to this online format; as such, I'll be his shadow -- OK, one of several thousand shadows here at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Marana, Ariz. -- continuously providing updates of everything Woods from onsite and on the course, through the duration of his round.

When Tiger hits the practice range, I'll be there. When he reaches the first tee, I'll be there. When he takes his first pain-free steps down the opening fairway, I'll be there. When he briefly retires to an on-course porta-potty, I'll be ... waiting outside.

Hey, this shadowing stuff can go only so far, right?

I promise to post semi-frequent updates as we get closer to Woods' 2:02 p.m. ET (12:02 p.m. local time) tee time with 64th-ranked Brendan Jones. Once Woods is on the course, I'll be providing minute-by-minute coverage from what I expect will be an emotional match bordered by a frenzied gallery.

As always, I'll also be answering reader e-mail throughout the day, so send any comments, suggestions, questions or threats to jason.sobel@espn3.com. And don't forget to keep clicking the refresh button for the latest posts.

If you can't tell, I'm pumped to witness Tiger's return. Not sure how anyone can't be, considering how he left off last year. What will occur? That remains to be seen, but when something does happen, you'll be the first to know right here on the live blog.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.