Tiger Woods' career has been defined as much by spectacular shots as mind-boggling numbers.
In just a dozen years on the PGA Tour, he already has won 65 times to rank third on the all-time list behind Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus. Woods has won 14 majors, closing on the record 18 won by Nicklaus and joining the Golden Bear as the only players to win the career Grand Slam three times over. He is 44-3 on tour when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
The latest number is the most troubling – three surgeries on his left knee in five years.
Two days after a grueling U.S. Open that took him five days and 91 holes to win, Woods said Wednesday, June 18 that he will have reconstructive surgery on his left knee to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.
“While I am obviously disappointed to have to miss the remainder of the season, I have to do the right thing for my long-term health and look forward to returning to competitive golf when my doctors agree that my knee is sufficiently healthy,” Woods said on his website. “My doctors assure me with the proper rehabilitation and training, the knee will be strong and there will be no long-term effects.”
And it wasn't just the knee hurting him at Torrey Pines.
Woods also revealed that he had a double stress fracture in his left tibia, suffered two weeks before the U.S. Open as he tried to prepare for the Memorial.
What was he doing playing the U.S. Open?
“You don't get to be Tiger Woods by having everyone tell you what to do,” swing coach Hank Haney said.
That apparently includes doctors.
Haney was with Woods in Florida when doctors discovered the stress fractures and recommended the proper course of action – three weeks on crutches, followed by three weeks of rest.
“Tiger looked at the doctor and said, ‘I'm playing the U.S. Open and I'm going to win.’ And then he started putting on his shoes,’ ” Haney said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Come on, Hank. We'll just putt today.’ Every night, I kept thinking there was no chance he's going to play. He had to stop in his tracks for 30 seconds walking from the dining room table to the refrigerator.
“He was not going to miss the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. There just wasn't any discussion.”
Now, the discussion shifts to his left knee.
Woods first had a benign cyst removed in 1994 when he was in college. Five years ago, he had surgery to remove fluid from inside and around the ACL. He had surgery again April 15, two days after the Masters, to clean out cartilage in the left knee.
Woods said he tore the ACL while running at home after the British Open last year, but it didn't bother him. He finished out the year by winning four of five tournaments, including a major. He stayed home in the offseason, hopeful that rest would help his knee, but the pain returned in the spring as Woods won his first four tournaments.
He said the cartilage damage was a result of the torn ACL, and he thought surgery in April would help get him through the year. Those hopes ended at Torrey Pines at a U.S. Open that will be remembered as much for the pain he was in as his 19-hole playoff victory.
“I was determined, though, to do everything and anything in my power to play in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, which is a course that is close to where I grew up and holds many special memories for me,” Woods said. “Although I will miss the rest of the 2008 season, I'm thrilled with the fact that last week was such a special tournament.”
His next surgery has widespread ramifications.
Woods will miss a major for the first time in his career, the British Open at Royal Birkdale. Coincidentally, it was at Birkdale in 1998 where Nicklaus’ record of consecutive majors played ended at 146. Woods was the only player with a reasonable chance to match that record, but not anymore.
“Tiger is an enormous attraction, there’s no denying that,” Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said. “But the Open Championship has had many exciting finishes which
Tiger has not been part of, and I'm sure there will be more. It's very sad. We're very sorry that he's succumbed to the injury and he won't be competing in the Open.
“We hope he has the speediest recovery.”
Woods also will miss the PGA Championship, where he was the two-time defending champion. And in September, he will not be part of the Ryder Cup team at Valhalla.
“We sent him flowers for winning the U.S. Open. Now I wish I had put in a note of condolences,” U.S. captain Paul Azinger quipped. “But this is not about Tiger and the Ryder Cup. It's about Tiger getting better and his march to history.”
The majors won't miss Woods nearly as much as the PGA Tour – and the networks that televise it – especially in the second year of the FedEx Cup, which Woods won in a landslide last 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.
Woods, 32, did not say when he would have surgery, but he canceled a clinic that was scheduled for Tuesday at Comerica Park in Detroit. Haney said the typical recovery is six to eight months.
“There will be debate whether he rushed back for the U.S. Open,” said Mark Steinberg, his agent at IMG. “But I don't think there will be any debate that he rushes back from his next surgery. He won't need to. Augusta is in April. And if things go according to plan, he'll be able to play an event or two or three.”
Woods first went to Haney toward the end of 2002 to overhaul a violent swing that was putting enormous pressure on his left knee. Haney suspects the pain has been increasing, and Woods stopped hitting balls after his rounds at last year's British Open.
“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.”