What shall a healthy knee bring in 2009? (Image:EOS Boy/Flickr)

Tiger recently announced he would return at about 85% health next season, saying that doctors told him it generally takes 18 months from surgery to return to 100% form. Reading that got me to thinking about the last half of the Tour season.

As much as I enjoyed the latter part of the 2008 PGA Tour season, it just wasn’t the same without one, Eldrick Tiger Woods.

I am, by no means, the casual golf fan. I watch at least a portion of every tournament–until the Tour Championship. I follow the players, who’s hot and who’s not.  I generally know a bit about the courses. So I’m not the average fan who only tunes in when Tiger’s in the lead.

But I miss seeing Tiger play. When Woods is in the field, you never know what’s coming next. Even when he’s behind 8 or 9 shots on Sunday, you’re waiting for him to make a late charge. The guy is so dominant, so other-worldly, that he truly earns every bit of praise, recognition, and success thrown his way.

I almost always cheer for the underdog, the little guy. I’ve never been a frontrunner. You know the type: the guy who always cheers for the popular teams, even if he’s never even visited the city in which they’re located. I hate Notre Dame, the New York Yankees, the USC Trojans, the L.A. Lakers, the Dallas Cowboys.

Tiger Woods is my exception to that rule. Maybe it’s because I played the game for most of my life, so I can have some semblance of appreciation of his ungodly amount of skill–the manner in which he dominates a game that has repeatedly kicked my butt (and made me like it) throughout my golfing existence.

All the media coverage, the SportCenter highlights, don’t bother me when it comes to Eldrick Woods. I enjoy watching his every shot, in fact. He never takes a second off. Watch a guy like Phil Mickelson. At least once a tournament, there’s a What Is He Thinking? moment with Lefty. But you never think that way with Tiger. He’s always on top of his mental game. He rarely makes poor, questionable decisions. Pardon the cliche’, but the guy is like a machine.

I can’t help but root for Tiger. I hope he comes back better than ever, wins those last few majors to break Nicklaus’ record, and shuts up those who doubt he’ll return in his 2008 form. Woods has played on a less-than-healthy leg since college. And what did he accomplish in that timeframe? 65 PGA Tour wins, including 14 majors. He won the 08 U.S. Open on one leg, on one of the most difficult courses ever.

Watch out Anthony Kim, Camillo Villegas, Vijay Singh. Enjoy your moment in the sun. Next spring, Tiger is back. And something tells me that he’s going to be better than ever.