Woods set to prove he's still big wheel

Buick today is first test since knee surgery, layoff


February 13, 2003|By Steve Elling | Steve Elling,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LA JOLLA, Calif. - For the past two months, Tiger Woods has been spinning his wheels, pedaling fast, yet going nowhere.

That's what happens when you spend two hours a day on a stationary bike, working your way back from knee surgery.

While the best golfer on the planet is back on two good wheels, coming off the longest layoff of his sporting life, a handful of rivals swooshed past as if he were standing still. As Woods returns to the PGA Tour today at the Buick Invitational, his first tournament since surgery on his left knee Dec. 12, he has spotted the field a few laps and is eager to close the gap.

After walking 18 holes Tuesday for the first time since the surgery during a practice round at Torrey Pines Golf Course, Woods is raring to go. But where his golf ball will go, even he can't predict.

"It's going to be week-to-week trial and error," said Woods, whose short-term schedule remains uncertain. "I know I'm not 100 percent yet, but I'm close. It's a heck of a lot better than last year, I can tell you that.

"Am I going to be a little bit rusty? Yeah. I haven't played four complete rounds of golf yet."

While Woods has been recovering, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Davis Love stormed to fast starts and rival Phil Mickelson stirred a controversy involving Woods.

Last week, Woods was forced to defend his clubmaker, Nike, after Mickelson labeled Woods' equipment "inferior."

Woods said the two spoke on the phone yesterday and that Mickelson apologized for the equipment firestorm he created. Woods said they "cleared the air" and this was yet another case of "Phil being Phil."

"I thought it was Phil trying to be funny and it didn't come off right at all," Woods said. "It blew up and escalated to what it's at now, and as we all know, Phil can be a smart aleck at times. This was one of those instances where it backfired on him."

During his practice round Tuesday, Woods hit a lengthy drive and said aloud, "Pretty good for inferior equipment."

Woods starts this week $1,810,000 behind money-list leader Els, the furthest he has been from the top of the cash chart. Even when he turned pro midway through the 1996 season, he was only $1,572,255 behind the leader, Mickelson.

Steve Elling is a reporter for The Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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