Woods chases new title: Comeback player of the year

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Tiger Woods returns to golf this week to begin making his case for the one award he never dreamed he’d contend for: PGA Tour comeback player of the year.

Tiger Woods returns to golf this week to begin making his case for the one award he never dreamed he’d contend for: PGA Tour comeback player of the year.

Great. As if Woods wasn’t intimidating before, the man who had everything – 14 majors, a Swedish bikini-model wife, a daughter, 155-foot yacht, two homes and a palace under construction on Jupiter Island – now has plenty of other things to play for.

Since limping off the 91st and final hole after winning the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines last June, Woods has gained a son, lost a sponsor, undergone reconstructive surgery on a chronically aching left knee and been reminded nearly every day how much the game is suffering without him.

“One of the great things coming back,” he said last week, announcing the Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson would mark his 2009 debut, “is my bones aren’t moving anymore.

“It’s a very comforting feeling hitting a golf ball without your bones sliding all over the place,” Woods added. “That’s been very exciting to play that way, and I’m looking forward to the season.”

He is not the only one.

Woods has been called golf’s one-man, economic-stimulus package, but how much he pockets, let alone the windfall he brings everybody else, was never much of a motivation. The only standard Woods measures himself against is himself, and the eight months off has made it easy to forget just how good he was.

Playing on one good leg essentially since he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee jogging at home after the 2007 British Open, Woods was on his longest ever sustained run of excellence. From that day in August through the U.S. Open, he won nine times in 12 official tournaments around the world and finished no worse than fifth in the other three.

The four years he invested with instructor Hank Haney were just beginning to pay the huge dividends they both envisioned. Woods’ understanding of his own golf swing, always a strength, had reached the point where he was confident enough to make adjustments in the middle of a round, even between shots if he desired. He’d already dialed up his short game, throttled back his swing to take pressure off the knee and still was hitting the ball more consistently than ever.

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