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Homestand suited Tiger

Citizen Staff Writer

There are seven words to get about 200 golf journalists to jump at the same time, and they aren’t “Lunch is available in the dining tent.”

They are “Tiger Woods is in the interview room.”

Every breath he takes, every move he makes, inspires scramble-to-be-first blog posts and an endless cacophony of camera shutters, including a couple of no-no clicks while he’s still in his backswing, as sure to draw his ire in a practice round, as happened Tuesday, as they would in real competition.

And that real competition is about to start.

Woods, in front of a standing-room-only crowd and live on TV’s Golf Channel, answered questions for about 25 minutes in advance of Wednesday’s opening round of the Accenture Match Play Championship.

By comparison, Sergio Garcia, who is ranked second in the world behind Woods, sat at the same table later in the day and spoke to a smattering of about two dozen reporters.

“Maybe,” Garcia answered when asked if he ever felt overshadowed.

“But it doesn’t matter. We know who we’re up against – probably the greatest player to ever play the game.”

Some things about Woods never change: He came here to win.

Some things we needed to know: His reconstructed left knee, which has kept him out of competitive golf for eight months, feels “great.”

“To have it feel this healthy and this solid and secure, man, it’s a great feeling,” Woods said.

And some things were just kind of nice to hear. Tiger the Family Man.

He’s gone without tournament golf since last summer’s U.S. Open, which has meant more time at home in Orlando, with his wife, Elin, and their daughter, Sam, who will turn 2 in June. Then, the couple welcomed a son, Charlie, on Feb. 8.

Charlie’s birth and good health helped clear the schedule for Woods to make his return to competition this week at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain.

“I didn’t realize how much I loved being home and being around Sam and E and now Charlie,” Woods said.

“I mean, I’ll tell you what, that’s something that is just so important to me. I knew family would be, and it has been, but I didn’t know it would be to this degree, the closeness that I feel.

“It was a blessing in disguise to be away from the game and have an opportunity to be a part of Sam’s growth and development and watch it. We’ve had so much fun, so many great times, and I would have missed some of those things.”

We’ll never hit a golf ball like Woods, but many of us can at least share in that sentiment.

Tiger is still young. He’s 33. But he’s past the young-gun phase of his career, settling nicely, apparently, into the fatherhood stage of his life.

He referred Wednesday to a generation of players that is no longer his own.

Rory McIlroy, a 19-year-old Irishman, is one of the hottest things in golf. He could meet Woods in the third round.

Ryo Ishikawa, 17, has won twice on the Japan Tour and just missed qualifying for the Match Play tournament. Last week, Danny Lee, an 18-year-old amateur, because the youngest golfer to win on the European Tour.

Plenty of others, such as Anthony Kim, 23 and Martin Kaymer, 24, are aiming fast to be The Next Tiger.

“We need that youthfulness in our sport,” Woods said. “It’s just a matter of them getting the experience and playing well.” And, now, it will be a matter of them winning big events in which Tiger is back in the field.

In the past couple of weeks, Tiger said he would sharpen his game for his return while Charlie napped, sometimes quitting the practice session early.

“Elin will call me, tell me he’s awake, and I’ll come back in,” Woods said. “That’s one of the beauties of living on a golf course.”

Woods, certainly, hasn’t lost his focus, excitedly talking about the rush of nerves he’ll feel on the first tee. Mostly, it sounds like he has balance between golf and life, which will only make him more dangerous as he tries to add to his 14 career major titles.

“It just couldn’t be any better,” he said.

Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: agimino@tucsoncitizen.com



When: Wednesday-Sunday (matches)

Where: Marana’s Ritz-Carlton Golf Course, Dove Mountain

Tickets: 571-0400, or www.worldgolfchampionships.com

Purse: $8.5 million (winner gets $1.35 million)

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