Whats Next For Tiger Now

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If you watched Tiger Woods match play battle (actually a quiet sporting war) against Tim Clark Thursday, you may have been one of many who were surprised at the spring in Woods step.
 
Thats because he had looked so ginger, so careful, walking and working his way around the course Wednesday in his 3-and-2 first round victory over Aussie Brendan Jones. It would have been described as uneventful if it hadnt been the golf event of the season.
 
It was Woods first competitive round after an enforced eight-month layoff brought on by surgery and the requisite rehabilitation. He is the No. 1 player in the world; the most recognizable player on the planet and, arguably, the greatest golfer of all time.
 
So our attention was properly rapt. As it was again Thursday when South African Tim Clark, one of the best players nobody outside of golf knows about, took Woods down in Arizonas high Sonoran Desert at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
 
The hope here now is that the fixed knee stays stable and allows Woods tune-ups at Doral and Bay Hill in advance of the Masters six weeks hence. Woods will announce his schedule when he is ready.
 
Meanwhile, weve had two days to poke and prod and analyze what Woods has allowed us to see. So lets give treatment to the subject of what we can now expect in the short, middle and long term future from Tiger Woods.
 
For starters, he is no longer the fresh prince of golf. Dont expect to see him slashing his way out of difficult lies the way he used to ' although the violent move he put on his swing excavating from a buried lie on the sixth hole against Clark looked like it might have stung a little.
 
Thats the point: Tiger doesnt want it to sting any more when he attacks a golf ball. The repaired knee mandates this. So the early take is that its a kinder, gentler Woods on the golf course. And off. Last week he took pains on a conference call to address reporters by their first names.
 
Woods, age 33, is a veteran. He is, happily, a father and a husband. Hes still more chiseled than he is grizzled. But he is no longer a manchild. He has been a fixture on the PGA Tour now for almost a decade and a half. And it has taken a physical toll.
 
That said, theres no reason to believe, once the rust has left the premises, that Woods still wont be the best putter and short game magician in the world. We saw enough of that when he holed out from a bunker for birdie on the 14th to pull within two of Clark.
 
And, Woods said, I putted great. I just didnt make enough birdies.'
 
Said Clark: I knew I had to play out of my mind to beat him.
 
Problem for Tiger was he got stuck and pumped a driver out of bounds on the short par 4 15th. We saw a little too much of that Thursday, being late delivering the club on the tee.
 
Somebody recently suggested that if Woods had to play the shorter drives of arrow-straight Fred Funk, he would never lose. Hed be giving up 30 to 40 yards off the tee. But hitting 10 or 12 or 14 fairways a round, with Woods iron play (circa Hoylake 2006), it wouldnt be a fair fight.
 
Just as Phil Mickelson fights the block left with his driver, Tiger may never completely lose the stuck right miss every time he pulls driver from the bag. But as the man said: They didnt operate on his heart or his head. Woods is still the smartest golfer alive. We can trust that he will figure something out.
 
I feel great as of right now, Woods said, referring to the knee moments after his 4-and-2 loss to Clark. And maybe that was the most important thing.
 
None of the top four seeds survived the first two days of this event. So Woods was not alone. But he apparently passed all his physical tests with flying colors.
 
All we have left to look forward to is the rest of his glorious career.
 
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