Greatest Player on the Planet

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MARANA, Ariz. ' Turns out the tricked up homebody version of Tiger Woods is just as tough mentally, and seemingly just as proficient with ancient game implements, as the one who ran rough shod over the PGA Tour on one good ACL.
 
Give Brendan Jones credit. He made a game of it, at least as much as an Australian journeyman whose greatest Tour accomplishment is that he has missed the cut or withdrew from more than half the events (11) he has played (21). For 16 holes, Jones smiled and played the part of hapless victim to destiny. All the world loves cheerful road kill.
 
In Jones defense, he made an easy $45k for his troubles, which counts out to about $2,800 per hole for the bean counters in the Dove Mountain masses, and the way Woods hit the ball it didnt matter if he was playing the 64th player in the world, or the fourth.
 
The only difference between Torrey Pines Tiger and Tucson Tiger was the limp and his need to start padding Charlie Axels college fund. The biggest question since Ayn Rand penned, Whos John Galt? was Did the layoff, or surgery, in any way hurt Tigers game?
 
The answer came via a mid-day blur, with Woods roaring past a stunned Jones with a birdie-eagle start to build a lead in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship he would never relinquish.
 
On Tuesday, Woods said he wanted to try and get back into the rhythm of the game as quickly as possible. The Pep Boys dont work that fast.
 
The joke, it seems, was on the media hounds who struggle to understand a player who sees only the finish line.
 
With a left knee that could finally withstand a 150 mph action, tranquility on the home front and a competitive jones in need of a fix, Woods showed up at the Match Play with a single To Do note pinned to his new AT&T staff bag ' win.
 
I dont go to an event that I dont think I can win, Woods said. Why go? It doesnt 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 thats to win.
 
Its perhaps the most misunderstood element to a man that keeps his day job as simple as see ball, hit ball. Everybody has an off day, whether you pure 3-irons or teach third graders, and Woods is no different. What separates him from the rest of the rat race is that he never plans for a bad day.
 
Asked last week how it was possible Woods could ever be better than he was at Torrey Pines, swing coach Hank Haney offered an analytical response void of any hyperbole.
 
He never stops trying to get better, Haney said via e-mail. I never doubt Tiger Woods, because after all, he is Tiger Woods.
 
On Wednesday, Woods was better. Perhaps a tad rusty and probably a little more anxious than hes been in some time on a golf course, but confident in the work he and Haney have put in and undoubtedly relieved that his bones dont rattle when he swings.
 
Jones did his best, keeping Woods within chip-shot range through the turn, but match play has been described as 18 little Sundays, and Woods lives for Sunday. By the time Woods parred the 12th hole, Jones started to look a little like Bear Grylls from the Discovery Channels Man vs. Wild and one half expected the Aussie to start chewing on a cactus for sustenance.
 
Four holes into the fish bowl, the only pleasantries exchanged between the two was, Youre away. At the first, second and third holes, Jones failed to get his golf ball inside Woods, a match play faux pas when your opponent is lacking blind spots. At the fourth, the man looking to tilt the ultimate windmill sailed his drive deep into the Arizona desert and the line changed to far and away.
 
Ive got to be satisfied, Jones smiled. I played the greatest player on the planet and I put in a reasonable showing. Theres a couple of holes out there where I let it slip, 3 and 2 to Tiger Woods . . . Im pretty happy with that.
 
It also didnt help that Jones showed up to the days featured matinee with rabbit ears. Woods comeback was always going to be more rock n roll than royal and ancient, and barking at the gallery only made things worse. But as speed bumps go, Jones played the part well.
 
Call it a light work day, like any good show, the principal character always puts in some dry runs, and Jones would always be an understudy. Next up is Tim Clark, a proven Tour player whose first title always seems one start away, and after that is a possible made-for-TV bout in Round 3 against European up-and-comer Rory McIlroy.
 
They will face the match play equivalent of rocket science, because the only question that lingers after Wednesdays masterpiece is how much better can Woods get?
 

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