Woods returning to golf next week

Updated: February 20, 2009, 1:35 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Look ... who's ... back.

Tiger Woods announced Thursday on his Web site that he will play in next week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. It will be his first tournament since having reconstructive ACL surgery after winning the U.S. Open last June.

With the birth of Woods' son, Charlie, on Feb. 8, speculation had intensified about Woods' return.

"I'm now ready to play again," Woods said as part of a five-paragraph statement posted on tigerwoods.com.

The Match Play Championship begins Wednesday in Tucson, Ariz., where Woods will end his 253-day break from competition.

The timing could not be better for the PGA Tour, which has seen television ratings plunge after the world's No. 1 player had to miss the second half of the 2008 season, including two majors, the Ryder Cup and the FedEx Cup playoffs.

"We are delighted that Tiger is returning to competition and look forward to watching him compete next week," commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement.

The last shot Woods hit was a short par putt on the 91st hole of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where he defeated Rocco Mediate in a playoff to capture his 14th major, which Woods described as "probably the best ever" under the circumstances.

He had surgery after the Masters last year to repair cartilage damage in his left knee, and while preparing to return for the U.S. Open, suffered a double stress fracture in his left leg.

He limped badly over the final few days of the U.S. Open, later saying the swelling was so bad at night that he couldn't see his kneecap. A week after winning, he had reconstructive surgery, the third operation on his left knee in five years.

Woods played with longtime friend and neighbor John Cook, a member of the Champions Tour, this week and Cook said he liked what he saw in Woods' game.

"From what I saw yesterday, he could step right in anywhere, just like he never left," Cook said Wednesday.

What to expect?

"He's human," swing coach Hank Haney said. "He has played one tournament in 10 months. I would think he would be a little rusty, but I really don't know what to expect. Nothing with Tiger ever surprises me."

Woods will be under greater scrutiny than usual when he returns at Match Play. The eight-month break is his longest ever, and there are questions of rust and whether he had to modify his swing after surgery.

Haney said the swing hasn't changed, but there might be one difference.

"He's working on the same stuff that he's always been working on, but he'll be able to do it with a strong leg now," Haney said. "It will be a little different in the finish because his knee doesn't give way."

Woods is a three-time winner of the Accenture Match Play Championship, but no tournament is more unpredictable. Even on two good legs, Woods once lost in the first round to unheralded Peter O'Malley of Australia.

His return could last only one day. He could also advance to the weekend, where Woods might face as many as 36 holes a day.

"I didn't think he would return at Match Play because the media would be all over him if he lost in the first round," Stuart Appleby said. "But if Tiger lost in the first round, it would mean nothing to him. He'll be looking for competitive rounds."

Woods also has an endorsement contract with Accenture, and he was to be in Marana, Ariz., next week for a corporate dinner.

Kenny Perry believes expectations will be minimal because this is Woods' first tournament in eight months and match play is known for its fickle nature.

"I think it's awesome," Perry said. "The economy is down. We need something to boost us up. And there's going to be a gazillion reporters there, so it will be fun to be around. That place is going to come to life."

He also figures that Woods will do his part.

"I think he'll be ready to rock," Perry said. "When he comes back, he's always raring to go. He must be spittin' nails right now. I think he'll be better than ever. He'll probably kick our butts like crazy. Let's face it. People play differently when they're playing him."

Unless someone withdraws -- Justin Rose is one possibility because his wife is expecting their first child any day -- Woods will play Brendan Jones of Australia in the first round.

Woods was playing some of the best golf of his career when he had reconstructive knee surgery. He had won nine of his last 12 tournaments and did not finish worse than fifth during that stretch.

Information from ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig and The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE