Where Will We See Him Next?
Tiger Woods is mum about the condition of his knee, but there are signs it may be months, not weeks, before he can play again
Try to forget, if you can, all the amazing and wonderful things about the way Tiger Woods won his 14th major championship. The 30 on his last nine holes Friday. The epic pair of back-nine eagles Saturday. The all-or-nothing 12-footer on the 72nd hole that got him into the playoff with Rocco Mediate (and the all-world reaction it triggered). The series of flawlessly executed shots down the stretch of overtime that he absolutely had to have to overcome the best of an inspired underdog's "Open Coma."
Forget even that Woods considers the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines his greatest victory ever, "because of all the things I had to deal with," chiefly meaning playing in competition for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee two days after the final round of the Masters.
Forget it and think instead of a golfer wincing on his follow-through, or bending over after a shot until the pain subsides, or limping to his ball, or needing help getting out of bunkers. The one who didn't walk 18 until the first round, the one who didn't hit practice balls outside of his pre-round warm-up, the one who said his knee hurt more each day. The one who never hit his trademark 3-wood "stinger" to avoid the lower-body torque it requires, who hit some massive double-crosses when trying to hit a "hold cut" (see Swing Thoughts, page 95), who stepped away from more shots than he ever did before as he struggled to get his mind right against the forces of pain and rust, and who played messier golf (four double bogeys, four three-putts, bladed chips, chunked sand shots) than he ever does when around the lead in a major. The one who had, at best, his B-minus game.
Think about that, and it is impossible not to be worried whether Tiger Woods will fulfill his destiny as a golfer. Will his gift be diminished? Have we seen the best of him? Is his time at the pinnacle of the game short?
These are heavy questions, and perhaps not even Woods really knows the answers, as he indicated when he said after the victory, "This week had a lot of doubt to it." What he does know is that he simply can't play more major championships in his current condition. Obviously spent, and needing some time to examine how to manage his career going forward, Woods in his post-round press conference Monday sounded like a man who could miss the British Open, the PGA Championship and even the Ryder Cup.
"I need to take a little bit of a break," he said. "I pushed it pretty hard this week, and I just want to enjoy it, and we're going to re-evaluate after this event and see what happens."
The word "re-evaluate" conjures up images of an enforced healing period, more rehab and -- who knows? -- perhaps even a follow-up surgical procedure.
The best guess is that Woods is going through a fairly normal reaction to surgery in that the healing is taking longer than he anticipated or at least hoped. While the pain is bothersome, his biggest problem may be the temporary atrophy he suffered from having to stay inactive for several weeks. It has cost him strength and stability, and the harder Woods tried to play catch-up before full healing took place, the more swelling would occur, resulting in the kind of pain he was feeling at Torrey. After a week in which he walked full rounds (after not having walked more than nine holes in the days before arriving in San Diego), a daily ordeal that required him to receive treatment from his personal physical therapist, Keith Kleven, to reduce swelling, the key to recovery is probably rest more than rehabilitation.