Tiger Woods' season ends

A painful decision

In afterglow of U.S. Open, he decides to undergo knee surgery

June 19, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

Those who wondered if Tiger Woods was being overly dramatic during his U.S. Open victory found out yesterday that the world's greatest golfer basically won his 14th major championship on one healthy leg.

Woods, who grimaced countless times throughout the tournament and during the 19 holes of a thrilling sudden-death playoff win Monday over Rocco Mediate, announced he will undergo reconstructive knee surgery and miss the rest of the year.

"Now, it is clear that the right thing to do is to listen to my doctors, follow through with this surgery and focus my attention on rehabilitating my knee," Woods said in a statement. "Although I will miss the rest of the 2008 season, I'm thrilled with the fact that last week was such a special tournament."

Aside from a torn ligament in his left knee, which he sustained last year while jogging at home after the British Open, Woods also disclosed that he suffered a double stress fracture of the left tibia earlier this year.

After winning the U.S. Open, Woods admitted that doctors told him he should have not played but was "too stubborn" to listen. Woods did not disclose the double-stress fracture or that doctors in Florida had told him to do nothing for three weeks - thus missing the Open - and to use crutches when he needed to walk.

"Tiger looked at the doctor and said, `I'm playing in the U.S. Open, and I'm going to win.' And then he started putting on his shoes," said Hank Haney, who has been Woods' swing coach the past four years. "He looked at me and said, `C'mon, Hank, let's go putt.' "

These are the most serious injuries of Woods' career. He has been hampered by knee problems the past few years but continued to dominate the tour after undergoing a pair of arthroscopic knee surgeries. The win in the U.S. Open, in which he needed to birdie the 18th hole both Sunday and Monday to stay in the hunt, was his ninth victory in his last 12 events.

Woods had arthroscopic surgery on April 15 --- two days after finishing second in this year's Masters - to clean out cartilage in the knee with hopes of getting through the rest of the year without surgery.

But Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., where he has now won a tour-record seven times as a pro, and the toll of the week proved to be too much, even for Woods.

The injury to Woods will have an immediate impact on the rest of the tour, and potentially a longtime impact on the record books if his recovery is slowed.

"Tiger is our tour," PGA Tour veteran Kenny Perry said from the Travelers Championship. "When you lose your star player, it definitely hurts."

The impending surgery and the lengthy rehabilitation of six to eight months, according to Haney, means that Woods' pursuit of the record of 18 major professional championships held by the great Jack Nicklaus will be put on hold.

Woods will miss a major championship for the first time in his career, next month's British Open at Royal Birkdale.

Woods will also not play in this year's PGA Championship at Oakland Hills outside Detroit, where he would have been the two-time defending champion, as well as in the Ryder Cup in September at Valhalla in Louisville.

While Woods will play host at the AT&T Championship next month at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, a tournament he established to help benefit his foundation and learning center, his inability to play will certainly erase the buzz that was there from the first practice rounds until K.J. Choi won the inaugural event.

The same is true for the rest of the PGA Tour events in which Woods was to play, including the tournaments leading up to the culmination of the FedEx Cup. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said that he has empathy for what Woods endured in coming to the decision.

"For an athlete as talented and competitive as Tiger Woods, taking the rest of the season off must have been an incredibly difficult, yet necessary decision, one that we understand and support completely," Finchem said in a statement.

Other sports have survived without its top stars because of injuries, but all seem to pale in comparison with Woods, the most recognizable sports figure since Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali.

How Woods comes back after surgery is also a question. Ernie Els, once ranked among the world's best golfers, has never been the same since undergoing less extensive surgery on his knee three years ago.

Knowing what Woods did in the Open, and knowing what he has accomplished throughout his amateur and PGA career, Haney won't bet against a player known for making dramatic comebacks.

"He's been playing way less than 100 percent for a long, long time," Haney said. "It has limited him a lot in practice. He's going to come back better than he's ever been."

don.markus@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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