Woods faces major decision

Skipping Open might be best for his injuries, game

May 19, 2011|By Jeff Shain, Tribune Newspapers

Tiger Woods has pledged to do all he can to take his rightful place at next month's U.S. Open. More than likely, though, he faces a tough decision.

What if four weeks isn't enough to heal his ailing left knee and Achilles' tendon to take on four rounds at Congressional Country Club? Or what if it is, but the rust on his golf game continues to build?

Would Woods be better off taking the time to get fully healthy before his next major pursuit?

It's not merely an idle question to fill the space during a lull on the PGA Tour calendar. After last week's nine-hole exit from The Players Championship, even one of Woods' closest friends couldn't help but wonder.

"If the limitations that Tiger is facing with his injuries are holding him back, then he needs to get those totally fixed," Mark O'Meara said.

Only Woods and his doctors truly know the extent of his injuries. And memories remain fresh of Woods capturing the 2008 Open on a broken leg. But what he displayed over those nine holes at TPC Sawgrass looked nothing like his heroics at Torrey Pines.

Balls hitting the water on back-to-back swings. Two chips from the greenside rough that never got to the putting surface. Toward the end, the amount of time Woods was taking to get from the tee to his second shot might have risked a slow-play flag on the back nine.

Woods blamed it on a "chain reaction" of tweaking the knee on his first swing, which aggravated the Achilles' and then caused his calf to cramp. "I'm having a hard time walking," he said.

It was a far different image than Woods' final round at the Masters, when he blitzed Augusta National's front nine in 31, briefly held a share of the lead and eventually tied for fourth. The knee was bothering him then, too, though it wasn't made public until a week later.

Woods then had a four-week window to get ready for The Players. It spoke volumes when he said he didn't start hitting balls again until one day before heading to Sawgrass.

Even so, O'Meara and others said Woods looked fine in his practice rounds. O'Meara did note that after dinner together one night, he mentioned to Woods that it looked like he was hobbling a bit.

"He said it was OK," O'Meara said, "but he always goes with that."

What's clear is that what was first termed a "minor injury" no longer looks so minor. And Woods now faces the same four-week timetable before the Open.

"There is no minor injury in a 35-year-old who has already had four operations," opined Dr. Ronald Grelsamer, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital. "No other golfer in memory has suffered so many lower extremity injuries while golfing. Unfortunately, this is probably more than an MCL strain."

Only Woods knows the full story. But if longer rest — or surgery — would give him a better run at Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles, it's well worth considering.

jshain@tribune.com

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