TUCSON, February 26 – Tiger Woods's hard work rehabilitating his left knee paid off Wednesday as he passed his first post-surgery public test with flying colors.
Woods defeated Brendan Jones 3 and 2 in the first round of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship – the American’s first competitive outing since surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last June.
The US superstar, whose projected return this season had the golf world on tenterhooks, said he expected to have some soreness after the round, but he was pleased with how it held up.
"That’s to be expected," Woods said. "That’s one of the reasons why it’s nice to get out of here and just go ice it and elevate it just a little bit and get ready for tomorrow."
Woods is the defending champion in the event, and if he is to go all the way again it will require the equivalent of seven rounds in five days, including the 36-hole championship match on Sunday.
But Woods, who says his leg is now stronger than it has been in years – certainly stronger than it was when he hobbled and grimaced to victory at the US Open in June – has already put himself through the mill in rehab.
"My workouts were where I put all my focus and all my competitiveness, my drive," Woods said. "I put that intensity into my training sessions, making sure that I did the training sessions properly, efficiently and to the best of my ability each and every rep, all day, whatever it was.
"Every day is an accomplishment," he said of the recovery. "You have to keep progressing and some days are hard. Some days are really hard."
Woods said the seriousness of his operation, as well as the length of his absence, gave this comeback a different feel from others in his career.
"Very different," Woods said. "I’ve come back from surgery before, but never this long. Never had a major surgery like this either. Plus, also didn’t have quite the same attention paid to my other comebacks."
Woods laughingly declined to be drawn on whether the hype that has surrounded his return was over the top, even given his global superstar status.
Amid the hoopla, he said, it all boiled down to the basics.
"Just because I’ve taken time off and away from a competitive environment, it doesn’t change the way you execute a golf shot," he said. "It’s still a golf shot."