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Mattiace Returns One Step at a Time

Mark OMeara conquers the field in The House of Sand and Fog at the Dubai Desert Classic. Craig Parry brings the Blue Monster to its knees at Doral. And suddenly, this weeks Honda Classic has more storylines than The Sopranos.
OMeara will be there fielding questions about whether the success he is enjoying with his new putting grip - The Saw - means we should all be moving him up a few rounds in our Masters fantasy golf drafts.
Parry will be there looking for an alarm clock to make sure he doesnt miss any tee times now that he has re-discovered his game while simultaneously giving the Ford Championship just the boost it needed by holing a 176-yard 6-iron on the first playoff hole Sunday against the redoubtable Scott Verplank.
John Daly has withdrawn, telling officials he has a hand injury. But Greg Norman will be on hand making his first PGA Tour start in 2004. Davis Love III, who became a lightning rod for interaction between fans and players two weeks ago at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, is in the field. So, too, are long-hitting young guns Hank Kuehne and Ricky Barnes.
But maybe the most interesting player at The Country Club at Mirasol will be Len Mattiace.
You will remember Mattiace as the guy who carved a 65 out of Augusta National in the final round of the Masters to gain a playoff berth with eventual winner Mike Weir last April. It was Mattiaces first Masters as a professional and it instantly put him on back on the PGA Tour map.
Things went down hill from there. And in December Mattiace underwent surgery on both knees on the same day in Colorado. Only recently has he begun walking and playing golf holes. The doctors are happy with his progress and have told Mattiace he is ahead of schedule.
If the legs dont feel right by Thursday, Mattiace says he will skip Honda and play Bay Hill next week instead. Wild horses will not be able to keep him from pushing a peg in the ground at the Masters in four weeks.
Its hilly there, he says. But he cant wait.
None of this has been easy for the likeable Mattiace. For six weeks after the operation both knees were sheathed in locked braces. It was a bad sight, Mattiace says now. But I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Finally the braces came off and he began chipping and putting. By the beginning of last week he said the only thing he couldnt do yet was rip the driver.
Walking, he said, is something we all take for granted. He had to learn all over again. Is golf really a sport? When Mattiace played his first three holes recently he was tired. Golfers, he said, are athletes. But Ive had to do this thing, literally, one step at a time.
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