So Close So Often, Stewart Cink Finally Wins One
MY SHOT We Proved the Torrey Naysayers Wrong
The Tiger Questions
A knee hasn't been this consequential since 1997, when President Bill Clinton missed a step at Greg Norman's house and blew out the First Quadriceps Tendon. As U.S. Open champion Tiger Woods dealt with his jumbled joint—he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last July, had an arthroscopic procedure in April, developed microfractures, limped to victory at Torrey Pines and now will undergo season-ending surgery—we are left to deal with the impact his absence will have on the game.
1 Will Tiger make a full recovery?
At 32, his chances are excellent. Surgeries for ACL injuries have a long-term success rate of 82% to 95%, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. However, Tiger's third knee operation in 5 1/2 years could lead to career-shortening arthritis.
Here's how the Golf Magazine Top 100 Teachers responded when we asked them if Woods will be as good as new:
2 When will Tiger come back?
His full recovery will require six to eight months. He'll be able to chip and putt after three months but probably won't make full swings until the five- or six-month mark. Eight months after a June surgery puts him into February. Courses where he'd feel comfortable returning would include Doral (CA Championship, March 12--15) and Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational, March 26--29). Symbolically, the obvious choice would Torrey Pines (Buick Invitational, Feb. 5--8), but that might be too early. A safe bet is that he'll be ready for the Masters (April 9--12).
3 Is Tiger going to lose distance off the tee?
4 Should Tiger have played the U.S. Open?
Let's put it this way: How many Tour pros would take a U.S. Open victory in exchange for reconstructive knee surgery? Most of them.
How the Golf Magazine Top 100 Teachers responded when we asked them if Tiger should have played:
5 Should Tiger have played for 11 months—and continued a heavy workout regimen—with a torn ACL?
You can play golf—or run a marathon—with a torn ACL, but considering the additional damage (microfractures) incurred, playing with the injury seems like an unwise choice. Then again, Tiger won nine times, including two majors, during that span.
6 Will Tiger still be ranked No. 1 when he returns?
Phil Mickelson is the only player with a chance to catch Woods, and he'd have to win four more times in 2008 to close the gap. Did you see Phil at Torrey Pines? That's not happening.
7 How will Tiger's absence affect the FedEx Cup?
Tiger will likely still be No. 1 in the FedEx standings after the Aug. 14--17 Wyndham Championship, the final qualifying event. It's good that the Tour tweaked the points allocation, giving more weight to the first three playoff events, because while it's possible that Tiger could qualify for the 30-player FedEx finale, the Tour Championship, without playing in a Cup event, it's unlikely. Under the '07 system, Woods would've ranked 13th going into the Tour Championship.
8 Is Tiger out of the year-end awards picture?
True, he can forget about winning the Vardon Trophy because he will not have played the minimum 60 rounds. (His 67.65 scoring average blows away the next best current mark, Mickelson's 69.45.) However, Tiger might still win the money title for the ninth time in 12 years. Having earned $5.8 million, he leads Mickelson by $1.8 million. Phil has two more majors, a World Golf Championship (Bridgestone Invitational) and four FedEx Cup events to make that up, and a win and a top three finish would do it. Tiger looks like a lock for a 10th player-of-the-year award with four wins including the U.S. Open, unless somebody like Mickelson or Sergio García sweeps the British Open and the PGA, or if Masters champ Trevor Immelman wins one of the two.
9 Will Steve Williams caddie for someone else during Tiger's break?
Why? For extra spending money? Stevie is reportedly on salary with Team Tiger.
10 What about the Ryder Cup?
Tiger's absence could cut both ways. U.S. captain Paul Azinger no longer faces the dilemma of finding a partner for Woods, whose match record is a disappointing 10-13-2, but Azinger is losing is a horse who could be counted on to play all five sessions. "You don't replace the Number 1 player in the world," Azinger says. Without Woods, the beleaguered Americans will be heavy underdogs, but they'll also be underdogs with a rallying cry.
11 Have any other golfers come back from similar injuries?
The best-case scenario: Ernie Els ruptured his ACL in 2005, bounced back last year with top fours at the British Open and PGA, and won this year's Honda Classic. The worst-case: Len Mattiace lost the Masters in a playoff in '03, then tore both ACLs later that year. Mattiace lost his exempt status after '05 and has won only $86,900 in the last 2 1/2 seasons.
12 Does the injury mean Tiger won't break Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors won?
Unless the surgery is a disaster, Tiger will surpass Jack's record. The proof was at Torrey Pines, where Tiger showed he can beat the other guys even with a broken leg. When he returns on a healthy leg, his march to history will resume.
13 Which players will rise in Tiger's absence?
The obvious choice would be Mickelson (left), but windy British Opens usually aren't his cup of tea. So, Sergio, this is your best chance to finally win a major. Likewise, Stewart Cink, Justin Rose and Adam Scott.
14 How will Tiger's absence affect the PGA Tour?
Short term, interest in pro golf will be down without Tiger, and TV ratings will follow, but with the Olympics coming in August and NFL and college football hot on its heels, golf was already headed for the back pages. Long term, the Tour better pray that Tiger makes a full recovery, because if he doesn't, the networks may reconsider the buy-in price for the Tour's next TV contract, which is up for renewal after 2012. When it comes to TV, Tiger is the Tour.
The show goes on. Follow the Tigerless Buick Open at GOLF.com
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JOANNA FARRIMOND; ROBERT BECK (WOODS)
NEW TIGER RULES With Woods sitting out the season, the pro game will face some jarring changes.
STAN BADZ/PGA TOUR/WIREIMAGE.COM (FEDEX CUP)
FRED VUICH (RYDER CUP)
ROBERT BECK (WILLIAMS)
JAMES DRAKE (NICKLAUS)
ROBERT BECK (MICKELSON)
ERICK W. RASCO (TV SNOW)