June 17, 2008

Good For Golf?

Tiger's absence might be good for golf, says O'Meara

The PGA Tour will feel an obvious void for the rest of 2008 with the loss of Tiger Woods, who announced today that he will undergo reconstructive surgery on his ailing left knee soon. But at least one player, Mark O'Meara, a two-time major winner and close friend of Woods, believes it might be a blessing in disguise.

"As big as he is in the game of golf, the game is even bigger," O'Meara told GolfDigest.com from England, where he participated in media day Wednesday at Royal Birkdale to promote next month's British Open. "The Tour will survive. I think it will be good for the game and good for him to go away for six months."

O'Meara spoke to Woods after Monday's dramatic sudden-death playoff victory over Rocco Mediate in the U.S. Open and has no doubt he is making the right decision. Despite winning five of seven tournaments worldwide this year, Woods has played in pain for a long time.

"I think he's making the right choice in getting it done," said O'Meara. "I know his doctors, and they're the best in the world. In six months, he'll be better than new. It's time to realize the game is the thing that will benefit."

Bubba Watson, who saw Tiger during a practice round at Torrey Pines, told GolfDigest.com on Wednesday at the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., that he didn't see evidence of a serious knee injury when he was with Woods last week.

"I wasn't looking for it, though," says Watson. "I just asked him, 'Are you OK?' and he said yes. That was good enough for me. When I found out about it this morning, I texted him right away and said, I'm here for you whatever you need. The thing is he's going to get all this time at home with Elin and Samantha. He might enjoy that so much he won't miss this at all."

Watson adds that while fans of Tiger won't be happy about his absence, the tour will go on and be just fine. "Certainly, he'll be missed, and hopefully he'll be back next year better than ever," Watson says. "We're definitely going to have a new FedEx Cup champion, so we'll see how that goes. And there are two more majors where we'll have one less player to beat, one less great player, that is."

O'Meara, who shot 75-76 and missed the cut by two at Torrey Pines last week, says what Woods did at the U.S. Open is one of the greatest accomplishments in sports. "Feeling the way he felt, knowing inside that the knee could blow out at any time . . . he displayed focus and determination beyond belief."

Veteran NBC golf foot soldier and analyst Roger Maltbie feels the same. He walked three rounds with Woods at Torrey Pines and knew he was playing on guts, competitive desire and adrenaline.

"Prior to the event, I didn't want to make too much of it," said Maltbie of Woods' knee injury. "It was bothering him before and he was still beating everybody's brains out.

"Obviously, there was something there. He was less than forthcoming. I already knew he was the toughest SOB in the world."

Despite playing in pain, Woods seemed to get stronger each round, Maltbie said.

"You knew he was in obvious discomfort," Maltbie said. "He was willing to do that. As long as he does his best, it's difficult to fault him. It's that mental discipline that sets him apart from everyone else. He wants to get it done every time out."

O'Meara wasn't surprised.

"You don't win 14 majors without being incredibly mentally tough," he said. "He doesn't want to jeopardize his career. He'll heal and come back. He'll probably come back stronger."

Remarkably, Woods came into the U.S. Open having not walked 18 holes since the final round of the Masters Tournament on April 13. He walked 91 holes at Torrey Pines.

"The performance just spells out how superior he is to everyone else," Maltbie said. "All I know is, if I was in a foxhole, I'd want him with me."

Mark Soltau is a contributing editor to Golf Digest and the editor of TigerWoods.com.