Monday, April 14, 2008

Frustrating Sunday, Painful Tuesday

Update 4/16/08: It was reported last night that Tiger Woods underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage damage in his left knee. That's the same knee he's had surgery on twice before.

This setback means Woods will miss the Wachovia Championship as well as the Players Championship before hopefully returning in June for the U.S. Open.

As it is with any athlete, the great equalizer is injury, and in Woods' case would appear to be the only thing that could stand between him and every meaningful record in the game of golf.

No one knows for sure how long Woods has been dealing with the injury, some say it's been since the middle of last year. But the fact that he has won already three times on tour in 2008 is just another of his amazing athletic feats.

There is probably not another athlete that is tougher than Woods mentally, and I have little doubt that he'll be able to recover physically and return to form quickly. However it is a concern that this knee problem continues to flare up.

Anyone who has ever had knee problems knows that it never really gets better and eventually it just becomes a matter of mitigating the pain on a daily basis. Given Woods' freakish workout and practice habits you have to wonder how continued knee issues might impact his unequalled preparation.

That said, the last time Woods had surgery on the knee he returned to win three of the first four events he entered.

The one thing that I think the knee problems rule out in the future is the Champions Tour for Woods once he turns 50. My guess is that he'll be too busy with outside ventures and family to be able to commit himself the way he would want to to that tour, and the knee will probably make it an even easier decision.

Luckily for us it'll be a long time before that happens.


Like he had so many times before, Tiger Woods stood over a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th green at The Masters. And like so many times before the putt dropped.

Only this time it was quite different.

As Woods put the finishing touch on what was by most accounts the most frustrating four days he's ever experienced around the hallowed grounds of Augusta National, Woods gave the birdie a sarcastic wave as if to say, "oh sure, now you go in".

It was just one of those weeks for the world's best player. A week in which his brief moments of brilliance, like the long birdie on the 11th Sunday afternoon that looked like it might signal a Tiger-charge, were eclipsed by untimely mistakes.

In the end Woods recorded his fifth runner-up finish in a major, which is certainly nothing to scoff at. However, when your expectations are as high as his, anything less than a fifth green jacket was going to be a disappointment.

Give all the credit in the world to South Africa's Trevor Immelman for putting together a very Woods-like performance, leading the tournament wire-to-wire and minimizing his mistakes on Sunday to make sure he locked up his first major championship.

Unlike Woods, Immelman followed his brief lapses in solid play with timely moments of brilliance. Interestingly enough it was the 11th hole for Immelman that proved to be his turning point shortly after most thought it would be Woods'.

After playing safe and missing his approach to the treacherous hole to the right, Immelman came up well short on the fringe with his pitch shot. Staring bogey or worse dead in the eye, Immelman canned the long par putt and ultimately stemmed the growing Woods-tide.

Even a terrible tee shot on the par-3 16th hole from Immelman that inexplicably found the water was not enough for Woods to take advantage of down the stretch.

A short miss for birdie on the par-5 13th seemed to signal the end for Woods, and an even worse bogey on the 14th ended any hope of a Sunday comeback as well as Woods' march towards the calendar year Grand Slam.

While it's little consolation for Woods, the end result of The Masters points out just how amazing his accomplishments to this point have been and just how slim the margin between winning and losing on the PGA Tour really is.

Woods' four-day performance at Augusta was one of the flattest, most uninspiring of his career at a major championship. Rivaled only by his lone missed cut at a major in his professional career, two years ago at the U.S. Open, shortly after the death of his father.

And yet as poorly as he performed in the big, tournament-changing moments this week he still managed to find a way to finish second alone and shoot one of the better rounds of the day on Sunday.

It'll be several weeks before we get to see Woods back out on the course, and that's probably a good thing for those of us who are admitted Tiger wonks, because if history has shown us anything about him it's that he'll figure out what went wrong and bust his Tiger-ass to fix the problem and move forward with a vengeance.

Woods' next major challenge comes in June at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, a course Woods has owned over the years. This week showed that nothing is for certain in golf, but if I were the field I would prepare my runner-up speeches ASAP.

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