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Healthier Tiger aims to prove it

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
Healthier Tiger aims to prove it
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Tiger Woods has not played a competitive round since he withdrew on Day 1 of The Players Championship …

Tiger Woods showed up at the Bridgestone Invitational outside Akron without a limp or his longtime caddie.

He did sport a cool soul patch on his chin, so he has that going for him as he prepares to end his three-month layoff due to a recurring left knee and Achilles injury.

Tiger ran through a practice round and then met with the media where he was his usual self – at times insightful, at times programmed, at times contradictory.

Talk is cheap with Woods. He sounds convincing behind a podium but you never know what's the truth. Is he really healthy this time?

"Oh, yeah, the knee is better, no doubt. The Achilles is better, as well."

Wait, Tiger didn't say that on Tuesday. That's a quote from after his practice round at the Players Championship in May. He didn't last more than nine competitive holes that week and hasn't played since. Tuesday he admitted he rushed back, reinjured himself and made everything worse.

It's different this time, he said.

"I listened to the doctors."

If so, great, the proof will come on the course. The beauty of golf is the scorecard doesn't lie.

This is usually a dream layout for Woods. He's won in Akron seven times, the most of any single tournament on the PGA Tour. He also recorded a 289 there last year, his worst ever score as a professional.

"I'm here to win a golf tournament," he said. "That's what I'm here for. That's it."

That's exactly what he's supposed to say and it would make for some great drama but here's a guess that Woods, not to mention the PGA Tour, CBS and his many fans, would be satisfied with four solid, consistent rounds. The event has no cut, so barring injury, Tiger will play through Sunday.

He's trying to peak for next week's PGA Championship outside Atlanta, the last major of the season and his last shot to make a move on Jack Nicklaus' record 18 majors (Woods has been stuck on 14 for more than three years and three prolonged stretches away from the game.)

A slow buildup to once again being a factor on the tour is the best goal, however. Then the majors either happen or not. For all but the most hardcore fans, golf is more fun when Tiger is in the mix and that can't happen until we see his leg is truly OK.

Woods can't be faulted for not disclosing the seriousness of his injuries or at times overstating his recovery. Nearly every athlete does that. He doesn't owe anyone anything. No one has any idea how many times he's undergone surgery (he's publicly admitted four to his knee), what the ailments are, or even how he got hurt (he claims he tore his right Achilles simply jogging a few years back).

It also doesn't mean we have to overreact to every statement of total fitness.

[Related: Michael Jordan offers advice to Tiger Woods]

How he fares without Stevie Williams, his caddie and confidant over the last 12 years, is anyone's guess. Woods said he called Williams into the boardroom at the AT&T last month and made like Donald Trump.

"We had a nice conversation," Woods said, with a straight face.

"It was a tough conversation, but we said what we needed to say to each other, face-to-face, man-to-man."

Tiger has every right to fire his caddie and while Williams has expressed bitterness at wasting the last two years of his life and being loyal to a boss that, in turn, wasn't loyal to him, well, that's how things go. This is Tiger Woods. Loyal isn't the first adjective anyone would use to describe him. Williams can take revenge with a tell-all book if he chooses. Or he can cool down and move on.

"I felt it was time for a change," Woods said. "Steve and I had an amazing run."

He later went on to describe any number of times when Williams advised him out of the wrong shot and helped him win a tournament. Then he said he hadn't settled on a full-time caddie (a longtime friend will carry this weekend) and that he's gotten inundated with offers from fans.

He'll go with experience.

"The game is switching a little bit," he said, eyeing all those 20-somethings that are starting to dominate leader boards. "Obviously Rory had a huge week there [at the U.S. Open]."

Tiger is 35. He said his peers are mostly in their 40s now. Time is moving on, but the injuries aren't.

The knee "feels solid, it feels stable, no pain."

He was asked when was the last time he felt so good.

"Years," he said. "Plural."

He said as much in 2009, too, when he returned from a nearly nine-month injury ("Both legs have been stronger than they ever have been. Stability is something I haven't had in years.")

Technically, both statements could be correct. Or not.

Thursday he stops sitting, stops talking and starts playing again, which, at this point, is enough to ask from Tiger Woods.

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