Tiger says legs are stronger than ever

Updated: February 25, 2009, 9:55 AM ET
Reuters

MARANA, Ariz. -- Tiger Woods sent an ominous warning to his rivals on Tuesday by saying his short game was better than ever after being sidelined for eight months due to reconstructive knee surgery.

The top-ranked player in the world, who defends his WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship title this week, has not played competitive golf since winning the U.S. Open in June.

"My short game has gotten a little bit better," Woods said in a news conference after playing his first practice round at Dove Mountain's Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.

"I've got more shots than before just because I've spent so much time on it, chipping and playing all the different shots around the greens.

"Some I had forgotten I had over the years. I kind of remembered how to hit them again, which was nice."

Woods, who defied stabbing knee pain and a double stress fracture of his left tibia to win last year's U.S. Open, expects to be a little nervous for his first-round match on Wednesday.

"The day I'm not nervous is the day I quit," said the 14-time major champion, who launches his title defense against Australian Brendan Jones, ranked No. 64.

"Nerves are great. That means you care. I take great pride in what I do.

"Of course I'll be nervous. That's the greatest thing about it, just to feel that rush."

Woods also felt a little uncertain about how his game would stand up to the rigors of match play golf on a layout measuring 7,833 yards off the back tees.

"Tournament-ready is just having rounds under your belt, but I haven't had that for a while," Woods said.

"I've played one tournament in 10 months [since the Masters in April]. I've had plenty of rounds and I've simulated tournaments the best I possibly can but it's hard to get the adrenaline up to where it's going to be tomorrow."

Although Woods experienced several periods of extreme frustration during his rehabilitation, he was delighted to have a strong left knee for the first time in a decade.

"Both legs have been stronger than they ever have been," he said. "Stability is something I haven't had in years so it's nice to make a swing and not have my bones move.

"I had a lack of ACL for a number of years and, no matter what I did, it was always moving. So I would try and hit into my left side but the more I did that, the more it would move.

"Hence one of the reasons why you saw me jumping off the ball was to get off that leg," he said of his swing in recent seasons. "It's nice to be able to hit into it for the first time.

"As far as my golf swing I'm doing the same things I've been trying to do but now I have a leg I can do it on."

Woods, arguably the greatest player of all time, said he always knew he would return to the game after his third knee surgery in the last five years.

"There was no doubt I'd get back," he added.

"Discouragement, yeah, there was plenty of that, especially the first few months.

"Anyone who's ever been through an ACL reconstruction, they'll attest to it. It's not a whole lot of fun. You start feeling pretty normal probably around five months and here I am at eight months out."