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Tiger Woods will next week for Match Play

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

Woods said on his Web site Thursday that he will defend histitle next week in the Accenture Match Play Championship, believinghis reconstructed left knee and his game is good enough to win.

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

The Match Play Championship in Tucson, Ariz., begins Wednesday,where Woods will end his 254-day break from competition.

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

"We are delighted that Tiger is returning to competition andlook forward to watching him compete next week," commissioner TimFinchem said in a statement.

The last shot Woods hit was a short par putt on the 91st hole ofthe U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where he defeated Rocco Mediate in aplayoff 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 cartilagedamage in his left knee, and while preparing to return for the U.S.Open, suffered a double stress fracture in his left leg.

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

He began hitting short irons toward the end of December, andfriends such as Mark O'Meara and John Cook said he had been playingplenty of golf over the last few weeks at his home course inFlorida.

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

"Elin and our new son Charlie are doing great," Woods wrote."I've enjoyed my time at home with the family and appreciateeveryone's support and kind wishes."

Woods will be under even greater scrutiny when he returns atMatch Play, a tournament that is unpredictable even with two goodlegs. The eight-month break is the longest he has ever gone withoutplaying, and there are questions of rust and how much he hasmodified his swing after the knee surgery.

Even so, swing coach Hank Haney said last month that Woods wouldnot return until he thought he could win.

"He's not looking to just participate," Haney said last month.

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