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Brendan Jones hopes to be more than an afterthought against Tiger Woods

The Australian golfer, ranked No. 64 for match-play event, knows he's only the sideshow to the return of the sport's No. 1 player.

February 24, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

TUCSON — In few locations could Tiger Woods' blaring return this week carry more poignancy than in a gumdrop town so far away it's frankly hard to believe it's on this same planet.

That would be Tuross Head, Australia, which you reach by going to Sydney and driving 150 miles south along the coast past Wollongong, Ulladulla and Lilli Pilli, knowing you've gone too far if you see Potato Point.

It's roughly 7,988 miles from the Accenture Match Play Championship as the crow flies-and-gets-really-tired, and it has about 7,000 people in its region, with Moruya the metropolis at 5,247, but you might think of it rising and beaming and gulping coffee at 6 a.m. on Thursday as Woods reenters competitive golf on Wednesday versus that likable lad who learned 20 years ago at Moruya Golf Club.

Woods returns.

"And my poor son's the one he's up against!" Margaret Jones said.

She spoke from Moruya High, where she taught food technology on Monday and where she watched her son Brendan Jones grow up and graduate. She spoke on the telephone as she has done chronically since her son's pingpong ball of a world ranking finally settled at 64 opposite No. 1 in this match-play bracket, for what Brendan calls "a front-row seat" for "one of the most anticipated comebacks in any sport, really," a seat he could have if only Woods would choose the Match Play for return after his eight-month layoff for knee surgery.

Woods did just that last Thursday here and last Friday there, and when the news reached Jones at his house in Canberra via a text message to his wife, Adele, well, "I got a few chills up my neck," he said.

It became the reigning, raging conversation-starter from Toruss Head (population about 2,000) to Moruya, which, after all, derives its name from an Aboriginal word that refers to its unusual number of black swans.

"Pretty much everyone knows who he is, where he's come from and what he's done," said Craig Clark of the Moruya Golf Club, which has about 700 playing members.

It also unleashed a whole bale of capable wit, such as when Margaret Jones told of scanning a PGA Tour web page contrasting the two players, the winner of 14 majors and the Japan Tour stalwart. "And my husband very cheekily looked down and said, 'Brendan's done something that Tiger hasn't done. He's won eight times in Japan.' (Pause.) We had a bit of a giggle over that."

Her son, in a news conference Monday at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club:

* "Pretty much everybody has said that if things don't go your way, just take out his knee."

* "The first thing I will probably say to Tiger" -- whom he has never met -- "is, 'You know, can I have three a side? Maybe one more on the front, in case I don't get to the back?' "

* "I haven't had a chance to speak to Nick O'Hern or Peter O'Malley" -- Australians who beat Woods in past years -- "but I spoke with Stephen Ames and he had some good advice for me," a joking reference to the Canadian who publicly doubted Woods' driving accuracy in 2006 and promptly suffered a first-round, 9-and-8 annihilation.

And then: "I probably would put the house on Tiger."

After all, he hails from a tour he breezily describes as a place where, in an unspeakable horror, well-off players must buy their own lunches.

No, really, Jones said, "I didn't fly all this way to try to lose," and so when it's Wednesday midday in Arizona, it'll be Thursday dawn in Tuross Head and Moruya, and because the match will air on a network available only in the state capitals, the Joneses will gather 'round the old desktop, as will proud and curious nearby sorts such as Moruya's teachers.

They'll know him as the kid from a Tuross Head house that looks out onto the Pacific, and some might even know that at 11, young Brendan proved such a tennis titan locally that he ran out of stimulating competition, whereupon his father suggested golf to complement his cricket and his surfing club and his Australian Rules football and his soccer, a typical childhood in arguably the world's studliest athletic nation.

And seeing as how everybody says that everybody knows everybody, they probably even know Jones' parents and his in-laws personally, or even that as a teen, as Clark mentioned, Brendan occasionally organized raffles to fund his trips to golf tournaments.

Well, somebody had to grow up to play Woods on his crescendo return, and so it's this accomplished player who made the British Open cut last year and needs respites from golf to stay fresh and just spent the Japan Tour off-season "just sitting on the lounge playing with the kid, my little boy," while occasionally wondering, "Should I be out practicing?"

"Really I've come a long way," he said, "and if I get beat by anybody, I would like to get beat by Tiger."

The dreaded No. 64?

"I think it's a pretty lucky number."


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