Patriots

How will Tiger Woods fare in return to golf?

506531.jpg

How will Tiger Woods fare in return to golf?

From Comcast SportsNet Thursday, August 4, 2011

AKRON, Ohio (AP) Add another list of numbers to show how much has changed in the world of Tiger Woods.

Geoff Ogilvy ran across a bookmaker's odds for the Bridgestone Invitational when he noticed Woods at 20-to-1. This would only be startling because Woods hasn't competed in three months while letting injuries to his left leg fully heal. In this case, however, Ogilvy considered that Woods has won a record seven times at Firestone, and until last year and never finished worse than fifth.

"Did you think you could ever get Tiger at Firestone at 20-1? Ever?" Ogilvy said to one of the caddies. "He was on 2-to-1 for a while."

Then he paused on the putting green, which was filled with players getting ready for a World Golf Championship that starts on Thursday.

"It's been an odd year," Ogilvy said.

The goal for Woods is to restore some normalcy, at least to his own game. He is coming up on the two-year anniversary of his last win on American soil. The last time he faced any competition inside the ropes, it lasted no more than nine holes at The Players Championship until he withdrew because of leg injuries.

Now, he claims he is as healthy as he has been in years - he wouldn't say how many years, just "plural." He has looked solid in a nine-hole practice round alone on Tuesday, and with Hunter Mahan and Arjun Atwal on Wednesday. Then again, practice rounds haven't always been a good indicator for Woods, except at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews in the summer of 2000.

What to expect Thursday? Not even Woods knows.

"I still haven't been in a competitive environment yet, so that's a totally different atmosphere," he said.

The Bridgestone Invitational features a 76-man field, which includes only four past champions in the 11-year history of this WGC event at Firestone - one win each for defending champion Mahan, Stewart Cink and Darren Clarke, and seven titles for Woods.

But that was the old Woods, the guy who won at least one World Championship every year since 1999.

The recovering Woods?

He said his expectation was to win, just like always. Some of his peers, who have seen his action over 20 winless months and haven't seen him the past three months, aren't so sure.

"No one expects him to come out and play well," U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy said. "I'm sure he expects himself to come out and play and compete, but given the length of layoff and considering that he's only been able to hit full shots for the last two weeks or whatever, it would be an unbelievable effort if he was to come back and compete. But I think just get through 72 holes and maybe finish top 20 would be a really good effort."

After playing the back nine under gray clouds, Mahan said this about Woods on Twitter: "The swing looks great and the knee looks even better."

Then again, Mahan is slightly biased because both employ Sean Foley as a swing coach.

Whatever the expectations, the level of curiosity about Woods is close to what it was when he returned from his sex scandal at the 2010 Masters. There was something about the way he left The Players Championship on May 12 that made it look as though he would never be the same, that the four surgeries on his left knee would keep him from dominating the way he once did.

Three months later, there was a confidence with Woods when he spoke about his health, and being patient to let his legs heal properly.

"I think for some of the young guys, they've never seen Tiger Woods play Tiger Woods golf," Mahan said. "They've never even come close to seeing it. I don't think he has to prove anything, but I think he's one of those guys, kind of like (Michael) Jordan, he takes every single thing that someone says and he's going to turn it into this massive gas on a fire that he's got burning right now. I think he's ready, man.

"A motivated Tiger and someone who has a challenge in front of him is a good thing for him."

Woods tees off at 1:40 p.m. with Clarke, a longtime friend who last month captured his first major at the British Open. Two groups behind them will be Adam Scott, noteworthy only because Scott now uses Steve Williams, whom Woods fired as a caddie a month ago. Woods is using Bryon Bell, a childhood friend who last worked for him six years ago at Disney.

Another reunion occurred during his practice round when he put his old Scotty Cameron putter - the one he used in 13 major wins - back in his bag. Whether it stays there won't be known until he tees off.

The field is comprised of the last Ryder Cup team members from both sides, selected winners on six tours around the world and the top 50 in the world ranking. Firestone South looks strong as ever, with rough framing the tree-lined fairways and greens that are as pure as ever.

It's a World Golf Championship, with an even greater prize waiting next week in Atlanta for the PGA Championship.

This week could go a long way in determining whether Woods can be a factor, there, too. Once a sure thing at Firestone, he now is an unknown.

"It would be maybe a little intimidating if you knew for sure that he was going to come back and play the way he did in 2000 or 2001," McIlroy said. "But who knows for sure what way the game is going to go?"

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hitting thoughts on the Patriots' 23-7 victory over the Falcons on Sunday night.

1) If the Patriots attacked this game believing that the best defense is a good offense . . . they were right. 

They controlled the ball for more than 18 minutes in the first half and ran for 92 yards on 18 carries (a 5.1 yards per attempt average) with four backs sharing the load. Rex Burkhead gave the team a spark with his speed and vision in his first game back since suffering a rib injury in Week 2. The success the Patriots had running the ball had the added benefit of opening up the play-action pass game and it helped protect Tom Brady. After taking two sacks in the first quarter and a monster hit (penalized for roughing the passer) from Adrian Clayborn in the second, Brady was fairly well-protected. 

PATRIOTS 23, FALCONS 3

2) Tom Brady lamented the fact that he hadn't been more accurate in the red zone of late, but he was better in that area to help the Patriots pad their early lead. 

The Patriots went 2-for-3 in the red zone through the first half, with Brady hitting on touchdown passes to Brandin Cooks (which looked more like an end-around hand-off) and James White. Brady still had moments of inaccuracy. The pass he lofted before being croaked by Clayborn was a bad one that was intercepted. (The pick was wiped after the penalty was enforced.) He threw behind Chris Hogan on multiple occasions. He also had an odd throw float well out of bounds that was intended for Rob Gronkowski. But for the most part he was on point, completing 21 of his first 29 throws for 241 yards. 

3) The Patriots defense showed up in critical moments time and time again in this one. 

They stopped the Falcons twice on fourth down, and they allowed Matt Ryan and his offense to convert on just two of their first nine third-down plays. The Falcons coaching staff deserves plenty of criticism for going for it when they did, but with a banged-up secondary, going against the reigning MVP and one of the best receivers in the league, the Patriots responded.

4) Bill Belichick's run defense was particularly impressive in the first half on Sunday night, helping keep the Falcons from getting anything going until it was too late. 

They allowed just 30 yards on nine attempts in the first two quarters (a 3.3 yards per attempt average), with Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise all making impressive stops at, near or behind the line of scrimmage. 

5) The Patriots suffered a handful of injuries to key players that will be worth keeping an eye on moving forward. 

Malcom Brown left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. Their top defensive tackle this season, Brown's absence may be one reason for why the Falcons were able to pump up their rushing yardage to triple digits by midway through the fourth quarter. Dont'a Hightower also left the game and was announced as questionable to return with a shoulder injury. Hightower has had a history of shoulder issues and so perhaps this is an older injury that was re-aggravated. Chris Hogan also left the game briefly and was evaluated for a concussion, according to NBC's television broadcast. He later returned.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE