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Tiger ready to return next week

LOS ANGELES - Eight months after winning the U.S. Open on one good leg, a healthy Tiger Woods is returning to golf.

Woods said on his Web site yesterday that he will defend his title next week in the Accenture Match Play Championship, believing his reconstructed left knee and his game are good enough to win.

"I'm now ready to play again," Woods said.

The Match Play Championship in Tucson, Ariz., begins Wednesday.

The timing could not be better for the PGA Tour, which has seen television ratings plunge after the world's No.1 player had to miss the second half of the season, including two majors, the Ryder Cup and the FedEx Cup playoffs.

"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.

The last shot Woods hit was a short par putt on the 91st hole of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where he defeated Rocco Mediate in a playoff to capture his 14th major, which Woods described as "probably the best ever" under the circumstances.

He had surgery after the Masters last year to repair cartilage damage in his left knee, and while preparing to return for the U.S. Open, he suffered a double stress fracture in his left leg.

He limped badly during the final few days of the U.S. Open, later saying the swelling was so bad at night that he couldn't see his kneecap. A week after winning, he had reconstructive surgery, the third operation on his left knee in five years.

He began hitting short irons toward the end of December, and friends Mark O'Meara and John Cook said he has been playing plenty of golf the last few weeks at his home course in Florida.

The last big obstacle to his return was the birth of his son, Charlie Axel, on Feb. 8.

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