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Tiger Woods back to winning ways

After an eight-month layoff, superstar golfer Tiger Woods launched his return with a first-round win at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. Woods suffered an injury to his left knee during an epic victory at the US Open last June.

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AFP - Tiger Woods didn't miss a beat Wednesday as he launched his return from an eight-month layoff with a first-round victory at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship.

Amid a storm of publicity, Woods serenely marched on his surgically repaired left knee to a 3 and 2 victory over Australian foil Brendan Jones.

Hundreds packed the L-shaped grandstands at the first tee at Dove Mountain and more lined the rails guarding the hole to see the superstar hit his first ball in earnest since his triumph at the US Open last June.

Clad in vibrant blue, Woods was still munching a banana as he strode to the tee box, where Jones already waited like the challenger in a prize fight.

While Jones gave a slight wave and self-conscious smile when he was introduced, Woods remained focused on his routine.

"Walking on the tee, I was just in my own little world, just trying to make sure that I knew what the number was to the bunker, where the wind was coming from ... am I going to hit a flat three-wood, draw the ball, trying to decide what shot I want to hit."

"Welcome back, buddy," yelled one fan. "You're the man, and you are back."

When the moment came, Woods belted his tee shot down the fairway and went on to take a 1-up lead with a birdie at the par-four, 460-yard hole.

"As I walked off the first hole, it was just mayhem because media, everyone was just running and I was walking amongst everybody," Jones said.

Although Jones had embraced his underdog status, he was dismayed to hear a journalist say "All right, another nine holes to go for a 10 and 8."

"Then (Woods) eagled the second and I thought, well, maybe he's right," Jones said.

In fact it wasn't that easy. Even after Woods took a 4-up lead with five to play, Jones made him work with an eagle af his own at 15.

And having a front-row seat for the show, Jones said, was a blast.

"I just had a ball out there," he said. "It was just fantastic."

Woods was last seen limping to an epic US Open victory in June, after which he had major reconstructive surgery on his left knee.

His return had fans, sponsors, tournament organizers and broadcasters salivating.

The Golf Channel's countdown clock showed the minutes and seconds to his tee time. Nike broke out an amusing TV ad pegged to his return.

In Woods's absence, US television ratings for last year's British Open and PGA Championship tumbled. Ticket sales at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, a tournament Woods has won six times, were down 15 to 20 percent in January.

"Tiger coming back after being for, what was it, four, four and a half years now?" USPGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem quipped. "We're delighted to have him back."

The long wait was made just a bit longer as the match between Stewart Cink and Richard Sterne stretched to extra holes.

With the crowds gathered for Woods, the pair played through.

"Stewart - you're cutting in front of Tiger, that's awesome man," one wag in the crowd shouted.

While Woods has said his knee is stronger than ever, he admitted he didn't know how long it would take him to get into a competitive rhythm.

That question appeared to be answered as he took a 2-up lead at the second hole - not long at all.

According to Woods, that shouldn't be so surprising.

"I don't go to an event that I don't think I can win," he said. "It doesn't make any sense to me. So I entered this event with the same intention I do every event since I was a little boy - and that's to win."
 

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