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Woods is back, as are the questions

Tiger Woods ended an 11-week absence from the PGA Tour Thursday with the surprising announcement that he would play next week at the W.G.C.-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club.

It is not surprising that Woods would return to a golf course where he has won seven times. What is surprising is that he is coming back to the golf course where his most recent memory is of playing probably the worst 72 holes of his professional career shooting 18 over par and finishing 78th in the 80-man field last year.

Then there are the other uncertainties. How much has he been able to strengthen the two injuries a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee and the strained Achilles’ tendon that was previously torn that have kept him out of action since May 12?

And how much work has he done on his game to prepare for Firestone’s bowling-alley fairways? None to speak of, according to his swing coach, Sean Foley, on CBSsports.com on Wednesday. Foley was confirming as much in text messages to friends late Thursday night, saying he and Woods would be getting back to work Friday for the first time since May.

There is still the uncertainty about how Woods will fare without the familiar figure of Steve Williams on the bag. Williams, who caddied for Woods for 13 years and 13 of Woods’s 14 major championship wins, was fired last month during the AT&T National, ending one of golf’s most successful player-caddie relationships.

Which brings up the other uncertainty in all this: who will replace Williams? Will Woods go with a temporary fix by calling on his boyhood friend Bryon Bell, who is now an executive with Woods’s golf course design group? Or will he pull out another major surprise at Firestone by announcing a permanent replacement? Golf Digest reported Thursday night that Bell would be on the bag.

Bell caddied for Woods in his third and final US Amateur championship victory in Portland, in 1996. He was implicated by Rachel Uchitel, the first of the women who figured prominently in the Woods sex scandal, as having sent her the plane tickets for her trip to Melbourne for the Australian Open in November 2009.

The announcement on Woods’s website either ignored or glossed over all the uncertainties, which is what personal websites are for. Ditto for Woods’s Twitter post, which predictably enthused that the former world No. 1 is “feeling fit and ready to tee it up at Firestone.”

If that is true, and Woods can return to previous form at the tough, old golf course where before last year he had never finished out of the top five then what we have shaping up is a competitive bonanza the remainder of the season. Every top player in golf will be at Firestone, as well as the following week at the P.G.A. Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

Would the folks at the PGA of America think about livening things up for featured TV pairings the first two days of that event? Maybe with a threesome of Woods, Scott and, well, why not Rory McIlroy? Or the freshly-minted British Open champion, Darren Clarke? Or Lee Westwood or Luke Donald or Martin Kaymer?

Think golf fans, casual, lukewarm and hard-core, might tune in for that?

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