BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Just as at the British Open, Tiger Woods will not play the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills CC, but even in absentia his presence is being felt. Just about every pre-tournament interview invokes the name of Woods, the two-time defending champion.
Some players (such as Ian Poulter) believe Tiger's absence creates an opportunity for them, while others (Jim Furyk for example) say they don't pay attention to the impact a Tiger-less major has on the field.
But no player is better suited to discuss what will happen when Woods finally returns to the PGA Tour than Ernie Els, who missed the second half of the 2005 season because of reconstructive surgery on his left knee. "I know exactly what he's going through at the moment," said Els. "It's a bit of a frustrating time. But in the same breath, it's great because you can spend time with your family and chill out for a while instead of traveling all around the world. He's not in a great position, but he's not in a bad position, either."
Woods said in a radio interview with ESPN Tuesday that he doesn't miss golf and has been focusing on other things such as fishing.
But he will eventually return and Els knows how Woods will feel when he does. "His first tournament might be, I would guess, Bay Hill," said Els, who expects Woods would want to play a tune-up event before the Masters. "The first couple of weeks when he comes back [the knee] will swell up and he'll feel it, and he'll feel it for another six months. So he's in for a bit of a treat, so to speak."
Els thinks Tiger will handle the situation just fine. "He's a tough guy. He won the U.S. Open on a busted knee."
Els returned from his knee injury in 2006 and immediately won the Dunhill Championship in his native South Africa. However he did not win a PGA Tour event until this year's Honda Classic.