Tiger’s back!

Welcome Back, Eldrick!

That should be on the marquee outside the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Tucson this weekend, as Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA tour at the Accenture Match Play Championship. He has completed his rehabilitation from knee surgery and the next step for him is competing inside the ropes of a tournament. It has only been 253 days since Tiger’s tournament victory at the U.S. Open last June, but who’s counting?

The PGA executives were, that’s who. Their sport is back on the front page of websites and newspapers all throughout the world as everyone anticipates Woods’ return. The turnstiles will be ringing in Tucson this weekend, as golf’s main attraction will be on display once again. And the tour’s corporate sponsors will be smiling; television ratings should go through the roof. The tour has struggled to keep its sponsors, but Tiger’s return should give it a much-needed shot in the arm.

Read the rest after the jump...

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Nadal-Federer renew their rivalry at the Australian Open

Their epic Wimbledon final from last summer seems like a long time ago but Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will renew their rivalry once again this evening as they vie for the men’s title at the Australian Open. This will be their seventh showdown in a Grand Slam final and it’s quickly becoming a must-see rivalry not unlike the Red Sox-Yankees or Lakers-Celtics for all sports fans.

Losing his #1 ranking in the world after Nadal’s thrilling victory in England has been a major catalyst in the revitalization of Federer’s career. He has added intensity and motivation to his smooth, effortless return volley game and hasn’t lost a match at a Grand Slam tournament (including a U.S. Open title last September) since Wimbledon.

Federer will be making his 18th appearance in a Grand Slam final and a victory Sunday evening in Melbourne will put him even with Pete Sampras at 14 Grand Slam tournament victories. His hard-court surface record is also very impressive, as Federer has won seven of the last eight Grand Slam tournaments played on that surface, including winning five straight U.S. Open titles.

The tennis world anointed Nadal as the new king of the sport last summer. The young Spaniard emerged at a time when tennis needed someone to challenge Federer’s dominance. Nadal will never emulate Roger’s play on the court, his sweating and grunting and his fist-pumping, emotional style are all big parts of his game. His top spin forehand shot will be taught to future generations for years to come.

The key to Nadal’s long-term success will be his play on hard-court surfaces. On clay, he has no equal, but Nadal’s improved play on the hard court and grass last year helped him take over tennis’ #1 ranking. Winning Wimbledon was a memorable moment in Nadal’s career, but winning on the hard-court in Melbourne tonight would be just as impressive.

The tennis world was bracing for an unknown to knock off Nadal or Federer, but for the past two weeks they reminded everyone just how good they are. The match is on in the wee hours of Sunday morning (3:30 AM ET) on ESPN2 here in the U.S., but the network is replaying the match later in the morning.

Young and old golfers vying to dismantle Tiger’s hold of the PGA

January opens a new chapter to all our lives, but it is a sign of renewal for some of our favorite pastimes as well. The PGA tour started their 2009 play on the isles of Hawaii as they begin their annual West Coast swing of the golf season. Golfers young and old are scrambling to establish themselves on the tour before the #1 player in the world comes back to work in late March.

Many believe that Anthony Kim has the attitude and game to compete with Tiger Woods this season. Camilo Villegas was a star in waiting during his first two years on the tour and blossomed during the 2008 FedEx Cup playoffs with two tournament victories. Both players have become the poster boys for the youth movement on the tour, but their success will be measured by tournament wins, especially capturing multiple major titles.

Defending FedEx Cup champion Vijay Singh did compete in the first tournament of the season, but will sit out the remainder of the West Coast swing. He will have knee surgery to repair a torn cartilage and is expected to miss five weeks of action. Sergio Garcia still remains the best player on the tour not to have won a major title. He tied for second place in the PGA Championship last year and has finished with a top-five finish in three of the last four British Opens. Unfortunately for Garcia, no trophies are given to the runner-up. And then there is the dilemma of Phil Mickelson.

Lefty had won a major tournament in three consecutive years before losing the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot with a double bogey on the 18th hole. Since then, Mickelson has not won a major and more importantly his round play has been inconsistent. Lefty in his last 10 major appearances has missed the cut twice and finished a combined 80 shots out of the lead. Drastic times call for drastic measures, and golf swing guru Butch Harmon has been brought in to assist Mickelson in regaining his stroke for the coming season.

What would a PGA tour preview be without a Tiger update? Well, he began hitting balls at a driving range in December and declared himself better than ever. Though he told Craig Sager at the Orlando/Boston game last night that his game just isn’t there yet. No one in the Woods camp will confirm his exact return date, but the official statement is that Tiger is ahead of his rehabilitation schedule after reconstructive knee surgery in June. It is safe to assume that Woods will compete in tournaments prior to the start of the Masters in April. But one thing is for certain, once Tiger returns, he will be ready to win.

Is greatness slipping away from Roger Federer?

The record book will show that Roger Federer won the 2008 U.S. Open Men’s Championship over Andy Murray. But something is missing. His dominance in the sport hasn’t been noticeable this year. Let’s just face it; Roger Federer is not Roger Federer anymore.

Wait a minute, a terrible year? How many players on the men’s tour would take a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open, two finals appearances at the French Open and Wimbledon, and a Grand Slam victory at the U.S. Open, all in the same year?

Is Federer dominating? No. We are not used to seeing him struggle in the early rounds. What use to be a brisk workout for him has now become nervy five-set encounter. Federer’s brilliance ultimately prevails, but never once does he look like he’s in control of the match.

So what has changed in his game? Well, Federer is not setting up balls for the kill shot that usually keeps his opponents’ off-balance. Balls that have rocketed off his racket in the past are now just dribbling over the net as a return or an unimpressive point. Instead of ripping through sets, he is now winning a series of mini-marathons.

The last set of his semi-final match against Novak Djokovic on Saturday was reminiscent of the old Federer. He regained his cross-court backhand that, in years past, would go by his opponent like a shortstop reaching for a line drive off a hitter’s bat.

Maybe Federer won’t return to the #1 ranking, and maybe he’s not a sure thing anymore on the tour. His dominance is slipping. But Federer did remind everyone this weekend at Flushing that he still has a few bullets left in his racket. Was this a return to greatness or just a brief glimpse of the past?

Only time will tell.

Reign Man: Federer beats Murray for 5th straight U.S. Open title

No matter what was said or written about his recent play, Roger Federer knew he had one more chance to salvage a disappointing season. After missed opportunities in the French Open and Wimbledon finals, Federer easily defeated Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 on Monday evening to win his fifth consecutive U.S. Open Championship.

Murray didn’t feel fatigue contributed to his straight set defeat. Instead, he felt his defense stance behind the baseline was no match for Federer’s offensive game. And the final numbers do not lie about his dominance in every facet of this final. Federer accumulated a 36-16 advantage in winning shots, a 7-2 lead in service breaks, and winning a point on 31 of 44 trips to the net.

Murray had less than 24 hours to prepare for the men’s finals after defeating the World’s #1 player Rafael Nadal in a rain-interrupted semifinal that concluded late Sunday afternoon.

Federer became the first man since Bill Tilden in the 1920’s to win this tournament five times in a row. He also upped his Grand Slam tally to 13, which puts Federer one behind the men’s record holder Pete Sampras.

Related Posts