- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

From combined dispatches

LOS ANGELES | Eight months after winning the U.S. Open on one good leg, a healthy Tiger Woods is returning to golf.

Woods said on his Web site Thursday that he will defend his title next week in the Match Play Championship, believing his reconstructed left knee and his game is good enough to win.

“I’m now ready to play again,” Woods said.

The Match Play Championship in Tucson, Ariz., begins Wednesday, where Woods will end his 254-day break from competition.

The timing could not be better for the PGA Tour, which has seen television ratings plunge after the world’s No. 1 player had to miss the second half of the season, including two majors, the Ryder Cup and the FedEx Cup playoffs.

“We are delighted that Tiger is returning to competition and look forward to watching him compete next week,” commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement.

The last shot Woods hit was a short par putt on the 91st hole of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where he defeated Rocco Mediate in a playoff to capture his 14th major, which Woods described as “probably the best ever” under the circumstances.

He had surgery after the Masters last year to repair cartilage damage in his left knee and while preparing to return for the U.S. Open suffered a double stress fracture in his left leg.

He limped badly over the final few days of the U.S. Open, later saying the swelling was so bad at night that he couldn’t see his kneecap. A week after winning, he had reconstructive surgery, the third operation on his left knee in five years.

He began hitting short irons toward the end of December, and friends like Mark O’Meara and John Cook said he had been playing plenty of golf over the last few weeks at his home course in Florida.

The last big obstacle to his return was the birth of his son, Charlie Axel, on Feb. 8.

“Elin and our new son Charlie are doing great,” Woods wrote. “I’ve enjoyed my time at home with the family and appreciate everyone’s support and kind wishes.”

Mickelson emerges

LOS ANGELES | With a flop shot that was amazing even by his standards, Phil Mickelson took a step toward shaking off his West Coast doldrums with his best round ever at Riviera.

From 40 yards behind the 10th green, his ball buried in the rough and his landing area no bigger than a hubcap, Mickelson’s barely cleared the bunker and settled six feet from the hole to start his day with a birdie.

It sent him to an 8-under 63 and a one-shot lead at the Northern Trust Open, a round Mickelson desperately needed after one of the worst starts to his career.

“It was one of the better shots I’ve hit this year,” Mickelson said.

Scott McCarron birdied his last hole for a 64 to give himself another chance at a tournament where he has twice played in the final group without winning.

Derksen takes lead

PERTH, Australia | Dutch golfer Robert-Jan Derksen made eight birdies to shoot an 8-under 64 and take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Johnnie Walker Classic at the Vines.

Derksen was a shot clear of Mardan Mamat of Singapore and late-finishing Tony Carolan of Australia, who closed with an eagle on the par-5 18th to move into a share of second at 7-under 65.

Englishmen Lee Westwood and John Bickerton and Ireland’s Damien McGrane were two strokes back in the event co-sanctioned by the Asian, European and Australian tours.

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