Cook: Tiger will be strong out of gate

Updated: February 20, 2009, 4:40 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

NAPLES, Fla. -- John Cook spent another day playing golf with Tiger Woods this week, and the long-time friend and neighbor of the world's No. 1 golfer doesn't know when Woods will return to the PGA Tour.

But Cook has little doubt how Tiger will fare.

"From what I saw yesterday, he could step right in anywhere, just like he never left," Cook said Wednesday at the TPC Treviso Bay, where he will play in this week's ACE Group Classic. "I know that he has put the hammer down a couple of times ... and that is trouble. I'm glad I'm doing what I'm doing here. I can't imagine just the few times that he's going to compete out there. I can't imagine that he's going to lose much sleep over anything."

Cook, an 11-time PGA Tour winner who has also won twice on the 50-and-older tour, lives in the same Orlando community as Woods and said he has played with him several times in recent weeks.

Woods is recovering from anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery in his left knee. The surgery occurred in late June, eight days after Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in a playoff to win the U.S. Open.

That was Woods' 14th major championship and 65th PGA Tour title. He hasn't played in a tournament since.

With the birth of Woods' son, Charlie, on Feb. 8, speculation has intensified that Woods would be returning soon. He is the defending champion of next week's Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona and Accenture is one of Woods' big corporate sponsors.

The Match Play format, in which a player can be eliminated after one round, and the fact that the tournament is being played at a new venue could mean that Woods will wait a few weeks to return at the CA Championship at Doral, a no-cut, 72-hole World Golf Championship event played on a course where he has won three times.

"The quality of golf is going to be as good or better than ever because he's actually got a left leg to hit against," Cook, 51, said. "I just think that his excitement level and anxiety to get out and play and compete ... he's ready to go."

Cook said he saw Woods practicing in December, when he was first getting into hitting full shots but being careful.

"Last week was the first time I'd seen full barrel, full swing, full speed," Cook said. "I was pretty amazed, actually, that the quality came back so quickly. Just the worth ethic. He's not going to go out and play until he knows he can work as hard as he can, and the next day he can get up and there's nothing [soreness] there.

"For the last [few] days I've played with him, he's worked pretty hard and played the next day, and not said anything about it. And he looked strong. I'd be amazed if he wasn't competitive right away ... [If he wasn't], that'd only be from competitive rust, nothing else."

Cook said he is like everyone else, waiting to see when Woods will tee it up again.

"I know what he's shooting for but I think with the arrival of little Charlie he might have changed or adjusted his schedule a little bit," Cook said. "It makes sense to play next week but then it doesn't because you're not guaranteed anything more than one round and that's not what he's really looking for.

"He's looking for repetition and competing and match play is so different than what he really enjoys doing ... beating the field. I guess we'll know Friday [the commitment deadline] whether he's playing next week or not."

Bob Harig is the golf writer for ESPN.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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