It's Tiger time again

Tiger Woods of the U.S. watches his shot on the driving range during a practice day for the WCG...

Tiger Woods of the U.S. watches his shot on the driving range during a practice day for the WCG Bridgestone PGA tournament at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio August 3, 2011. (REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:45 PM ET

AKRON, OHIO - He hasn't won a golf tournament in almost two years, last played on the PGA Tour in May -- shooting 42 for nine holes -- and the last time he played at Firestone, he might have had trouble winning the "B Flight" of the club championship after shooting 18-over par for 72 holes.

So, of course, nobody would be surprised if Tiger Woods wins the WGC Bridgestone Invitational which gets under way Thursday.

That is part of the allure, part of the attraction of golf's biggest talent and dominant personality.

With Tiger, you just never know.

That is why his return to competitive golf intrigues us, that there is the possiblity with Woods of just about anything happening -- a literal car wreck, a figurative train wreck, a wrecked knee, a gut-wrenching win (like at his last victory in a major, the 2008 U.S. Open) or a wretched performance.

Seldom is it anything but an extreme with Woods.

He doesn't move the needle. He is the needle.

Admit it: it's been fun seeing Rory McIlroy play some wonderful golf while winning the U.S. Open.

It was charming and sweet and great having Darren Clarke win the British Open, with a Guinness as his elbow during the post-championship press conference.

But you couldn't help feeling it was all just marking time.

Marking time until Thursday afternoon at 1:40, when Woods will tee off with Clarke. It will be Woods' first action since reinjuring his left knee and Achilles tendon, which he first hurt hitting off the pine straw at The Masters, and withdrawing at the Players Championship 11 weeks ago.

McIlroy, who has rather innocently prodded Woods over the years, was asked Wednesday how he thought Woods would do this week.

"No one expects him to come out and play well," said McIlroy, a refreshing kid who says what's on his mind and has grown to fill the void in Woods' absence, winning in dominating fashion his first major, in June.

"I'm sure he expects himself to come and play and compete, but given the length of the layoff and considering that's he's only been able to hit full shots for the last couple of weeks or whatever, it would be an unbelievable effort if he was to come back and compete," said McIlroy.

"But I think just to get through 72 holes and maybe finish in the top 20, I think would be a really good effort."

Top 20?

Good effort?

Okay, it's not anywhere near Stephen Ames' quip, "Anything can happen, especially where he's hitting the ball," before the 2006 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, inspiring Woods' classic comeback after their match in which Woods played windshield to Ames' bug. (When asked if he was aware of Ames' comments after the match, Woods replied: "9 and 8.")

Certainly the folks in Las Vegas, who get paid to pay attention to these things, think Woods will do better than McIlroy does.

Woods is going off at 20-1, according to one sports book, the fifth-best odds in the 76-player field (no cut) after McIlroy at 12-1 and Luke Donald, Steve Stricker and Lee Westwood at 15-1.

It is remarkable that Woods can still attract betting interest like that. Especially with continuing questions about the worthiness of his wonky left knee and the aftershocks of splitting with what might be the two of the most important people in a professional golfer's personal and professional life, his wife and his caddie.

Not to mention a stunningly important fact: Woods is probably somewhere past the middle, but not likely near the end (will he ever be?) of revamping his swing after working with coach Sean Foley, whose relationship became official just a year ago at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

"I'm here to try and win the golf tournament," said Woods.

As complicated as everything else might be, as much as the ground beneath his new Nike shoes might shift, that goal remains the one certainty for Woods.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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