Golf World Welcomes Back Tiger Woods

Eight months after knee surgery, Tiger Woods has returned to competitive golf. He won his opening-round match Wednesday in the Accenture Match Play Championship. He beat Australian Brendan Jones to advance to the second round of the six-round tournament.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Eight months after major knee surgery, Tiger Woods returned to competitive golf yesterday. He won his opening round match in the Accenture Match Play Championship. Woods beat Australian Brendan Jones to advance to the second round of the six-round tournament. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to discuss what the return of Tiger means to the PGA Tour.

And obviously, John, quite a bit, because we can spend several minutes talking about it right now.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: No question about that, Renee. You know, I said after Tiger has his surgery, that he had knee surgery and the entire PGA tour has been limping for eight months. And that's a figurative term, but if you look at their TV ratings, which always go down when he doesn't play; if you look at what goes on in terms of their corporate sales - now some of that, more recently, has been driven by the economy, but even before the economy tanked in October -everything was down on tour without Tiger Woods.

And that's no knock on the other players, it's just that he is such an iconic figure that when he returned to the event that's he's playing - and out in Tucson, normally has about 150 to 250 media request for credentials - this year over 700 requests.

MONTAGNE: Wow. Well, how'd he look?

FEINSTEIN: He looked like Tiger Woods. He started out with a birdie on the first hole, made an eagle on the second hole, so he was three under par on his first two holes after not playing a competitive round for more than eight months. He beat a good player, Brendan Jones, easily. The match was never in doubt. His walking was fine, on a long golf course. And as he said after the match, he felt as if he'd never been away. And it looked as if he'd never been away.

MONTAGNE: And, John, this event is different from the others on tour. It's player versus player, rather than four rounds with the entire field all competing against one another. Why did Tiger Woods decide to come back in this particular format?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think there are a couple of reasons, Renee. One: he's good at match play. He's won this even three times. Two: he knew if, let's say Brendan Jones had upset him in the first round, yesterday, and he didn't continue in the tournament, he still had two more events that he likes to play in Florida coming up before the Masters, which is six - starts six weeks from today.

Also, and this is always a factor with Tiger Woods, Accenture is one of his major sponsors, and he likes to keep his sponsors happy. He would've been out there glad-handing anyway, so I guess he'd rather go and play than glad-hand.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, you were just talking about how important Tiger Woods' return has been to basically golf itself, and also the PGA, but what does his return mean to the other players? You know, on the one hand you'd think they'd be happy. And then you kind of think maybe, oh, dear, now it's Tiger.

FEINSTEIN: Well, exactly. There's actually a commercial that's come out since Tiger came back, showing all these other players partying and celebrating victories on tour with him absent. And then he walks into the locker room and everybody goes silent because he's back. And that's fairly accurate. Lee Jansen said last summer - former U.S. Open champion - that all the purses went up 18 percent for everybody else with Tiger absent, because 18 percent is the winner's share. Well, now they went down 18 percent.

But the other players also know that Tiger Woods has made them rich. The entire purse for the tour has gone - has tripled - since he first came out. And he's the one guy who can probably keep them close to that in this current economy.

MONTAGNE: All right. Well, thanks a lot, John.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein. He's the author of the golfing book, "A Good Walk Spoiled."

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