Tiger's return solid, swing coach says
MARANA, Ariz. -- The sun still rose over the mountains Friday, even though Tiger Woods was no longer here to take in the view -- or perhaps more appropriately, no longer here to be viewed by thousands of spectators yearning to get a glimpse of the world's No. 1 golfer.
With Woods eliminated from the Accenture Match Play Championship, a calm came over the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, where crowds were noticeably thinner and the buzz appreciably diminished.
Hank Haney stayed behind after his famous client had jetted off following his defeat to Tim Clark on Thursday, and Haney was generally upbeat about what had transpired this week, despite the 4-and-2 defeat. All in all, it was a very encouraging comeback from knee surgery, Haney said.
"The amount of satisfaction I have is related to how Tiger feels he did, and he felt like he did well," Haney said. "He told me he thought he hit the ball real well, and I thought he did, too. I thought he hit a lot of great shots."
"The goal was to start getting some rounds of golf in and the goal obviously is to be ready for [the Masters at] Augusta. I didn't see anything in the last two days that made me think he won't be ready for Augusta."
For the 32 holes Woods played, he was 5 under par. If it were a stroke-play event, he would not have been leading, but he certainly would have been in the mix.
Such is match play, where Clark made six birdies and no bogeys and went 3-up through 13 holes after three straight birdies.
After Woods holed a bunker shot to cut the lead to 2-up, he attempted to drive the green at the 343-yard par-4 15th -- and knocked his tee shot out of bounds, aided by a huge bounce off a cart path.
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"One shot in a desert and it's on a hole where you're in a desperate situation," Haney said. "He told me he couldn't hit a 3-wood because he couldn't get it over the [fairway] bunker. So he wanted to hit a soft driver. But he can't hit a fade because the pin is on the left. So he's [trying to hit a] high, soft driver that's hooking. This is all going through his mind before he hits. It's more than just hitting it in the desert. A high, soft hook? Those things don't really go together.
"If he hits the shot the hole calls for, he's going to knock it 30 yards over the green. The second one he hit [after going out of bounds] was really good, but he was basically in an incredible hole. Still, it was a great shot, and it's still something that gives you confidence."
Woods returned to the PGA Tour after nine months away due to surgery to replace the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He didn't swing a club for nearly six months and did not begin to hit full shots with a driver until January.
And that leaves Haney encouraged by three main things.
"He has a solid, strong knee, the ability to practice and he's not playing in pain," Haney said. "The game requires so much mental energy, I can't think [playing with pain] is a good thing. And he hadn't hit a practice ball since the Carnoustie British Open [in 2007] after any round. He didn't practice after these rounds here, but he's just coming back, and he's practiced more at home than he has in a long time."
Woods said Thursday he had no problems with the knee and seemed encouraged that he was able to handle so much walking on hilly terrain without any issues.
Now the wait begins again to see when Woods will play next, although it is not expected to be very long. Although he did not commit, Woods is likely to play in the next World Golf Championship event, the CA Championship at Doral, which begins March 12.
And Haney said an understandable adjustment period will continue.
"His knee is stable, but it is different," Haney said. "It's not flopping all over the place [as it did before surgery]. Has he changed his swing? Your swing is going to be different when your knee is not flopping all over the place. It's different because his leg feels different.
"I don't think there is any doubt there was going to be a getting-used-to-it-feeling period of time. What's encouraging is he was feeling good, his warm-ups were really good, too, which is a big part of this. He felt really good about how he did on the course, and overall it was pretty good."
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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