"I'm now ready to play again," Tiger Woods said Thursday.
More than eight months after Woods winced and wobbled on one good leg to win the U.S. Open, the world's No. 1 player said his reconstructed left knee and his game were in good enough shape to compete.
He entered the Accenture Match Play Championship, which begins Wednesday just outside Tucson, Ariz., and where Woods will hit his first real shot in 253 days.
The return of Woods was welcomed by the PGA Tour, which has seen television ratings plummet in his absence, and even the players whom Woods has routinely beaten while compiling 65 victories.
"He was ready to go weeks ago," Stuart Appleby said. "I don't think he needs to do a couple of laps around the track. He'll be on that horse and he'll be whipping it."
Woods posted his news during the first round of the Northern Trust Open, and the tournament - not to mention its leader, Phil Mickelson, who opened with a career-best 63 at Riviera - soon became insignificant.
"I think it's awesome," Kenny Perry said. "The economy is down. We need something to boost us up. And there's going to be a gazillion reporters there, so it will be fun to be around. That place is going to come to life."
In the eight months that Woods has been gone, Padraig Harrington won two majors, the Americans won the Ryder Cup and Vijay Singh won the FedEx Cup. But with a mainstream audience, golf loses relevance without Woods.
"We are delighted that Tiger is returning to competition and look forward to watching him compete next week," commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement, which read more like an understatement.
Woods has not been seen inside the ropes since June 16, when he rapped in a short par putt at Torrey Pines to defeat Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open for his 14th major, which Woods called "probably the best ever" given the circumstances.
The U.S. Open was his first tournament since surgery on his left knee to clean out cartilage after the Masters. Preparing for his return, Woods suffered a double stress fracture in his left tibia. The swelling was so bad at Torrey Pines that he couldn't see his knee cap.
He limped badly over the final few days, at times using his club as a cane.
A week after the U.S. Open, he had surgery to rebuild the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, ending his season. It was his third surgery in five years on the knee.
What to expect upon his return?
"He's human," swing coach Hank Haney said. "He has played one tournament in 10 months. I would think he would be a little rusty, but I really don't know what to expect. Nothing with Tiger ever surprises me."
Woods began hitting short irons toward the end of December, and friends such as Mark O'Meara and John Cook said he had been playing plenty of golf over the last few weeks at his home course in Florida.
The last big obstacle to his return was the Feb. 8 birth of his son, Charlie Axel.
"Elin and our new son Charlie are doing great," Woods wrote. "I've enjoyed my time at home with the family and appreciate everyone's support and kind wishes."
Woods will be under even greater scrutiny when he returns at Match Play, a tournament that is unpredictable even with two good legs. The eight-month break is his longest ever, and there are questions of rust and whether he had to modify his swing after surgery.
Haney said the swing hasn't changed, but there might be one difference.
"He's working on the same stuff that he's always been working on, but he'll be able to do it with a strong leg now," Haney said. "It will be a little different in the finish because his knee doesn't give way."
Woods is a three-time winner of the Accenture Match Play Championship, but no tournament is more fickle. Woods won in 2004 for his only victory of the season. Last year, at the height of his game, he was lucky to escape against J.B. Holmes and Aaron Baddeley.
His return could last only one day. He could also advance to the weekend, where Woods might face as many as 36 holes a day.
"I didn't think he would return at Match Play because the media would be all over him if he lost in the first round," Appleby said. "But if Tiger lost in the first round, it would mean nothing to him. He'll be looking for competitive rounds."
Former Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger thought the decision made perfect sense.
"He doesn't have to post a score," Azinger said.
In match play, scoring is based on winning the hole. If Woods were to make a triple bogey, he would only lose that hole.
Woods also has an endorsement contract with Accenture, and he was to be in Marana, Ariz., next week for a corporate dinner.
Perry is among those who believes Woods will be as good as ever.
"I think he'll be ready to rock," Perry said. "When he comes back, he's always raring to go. He must be spittin' nails right now. I think he'll be better than ever. He'll probably kick our butts like crazy. Let's face it. People play differently when they're playing him."
Unless someone withdraws - Justin Rose is one possibility because his wife is expecting their first child any day - Woods will play Brendan Jones of Australia in the first round.
Woods was playing some of the best golf of his career when he had reconstructive knee surgery. He had won nine of his last 12 tournaments and did not finish worse than fifth during that stretch.
He did not walk 18 holes from the last round of the Masters until the first round of the U.S. Open, although that won't be the case this time. Match Play is moving to a new course this year - the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain - and he likely will have to play at least one practice round.
Haney is curious to see how Woods copes with the rust, but he's not worried about the knee.
"He came out five years ago and said he had 20 percent of his ACL, and then none of it," Haney said., "Now he has 100 percent of his ACL and his legs have never been strong, and somehow people want to think, 'Will he be OK?' They're not following logic. The only thing he has to deal with is being away for a long time. How long it takes him, I don't know. But he is Tiger Woods."