Woods ready for a little knee time

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Tiger calls it quits for season, but will it hinder pursuit of Golden Bear's record?

If everyone out there in Readerland who thought Tiger Woods was milking a minor knee injury to disguise his bad golf shots in the U.S. Open were asked to put down the paper right now, there would only be 11 people left to finish reading this column.

And seven of those might not be telling the truth.

Go on, admit it. He would hit a wild drive into the hinterlands at Torrey Pines, usually losing it to the right, and he would wince and double over and use his golf club as a crutch to get him down from a tee box to the fairway, and you would roll your eyes and say to the TV set: "Oh, puh-leez! How come it never bothers him when he hits it straight?"

Tiger Woods, seen here at last weekend's U.S. Open, announced Wednesday that he would take the remainder of the season off to have major surgery to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Photo by the Associated Press

Vancouver - If everyone out there in Readerland who thought Tiger Woods was milking a minor knee injury to disguise his bad golf shots in the U.S. Open were asked to put down the paper right now, there would only be 11 people left to finish reading this column.

And seven of those might not be telling the truth.

Go on, admit it. He would hit a wild drive into the hinterlands at Torrey Pines, usually losing it to the right, and he would wince and double over and use his golf club as a crutch to get him down from a tee box to the fairway, and you would roll your eyes and say to the TV set: "Oh, puh-leez! How come it never bothers him when he hits it straight?"

Well, actually, it did. Several times, that I can think of, over the last 37 holes, he hit tee shots into the fairway and grimaced in pain. Maybe NBC didn't show those, though I don't see how that's possible, since they didn't show anything else.

It's just that the off-kilter swings hurt more, and those are the ones that have always gone astray for Tiger. The ones he tries to hit too hard.

When he's in fine balance, and the swing is controlled and even, you don't even have to ask where it's going. You can tell from his pose at the end of the follow-through.

So, beyond the news: that Woods has, for 11 months, had a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee - the train wreck of knee injuries, the one that has jeopardized many an athletic career and ended more than a few - and two stress fractures at the top of the tibia, or shinbone, where it forms part of the knee joint . . .

Beyond the prognosis: that he needs reconstructive surgery and many, many months of rehabilitation and won't play again this year, meaning he will miss at least two major championships (a shame) and the Ryder Cup (lucky Tiger) . . .

Beyond what we now know for sure: that after not walking 18 holes even once in two months after arthroscopic surgery in April to remove cartilage torn by playing with a loose knee joint, Woods still beat all the world's best players, and played 91 holes on that knee, which tells you all you need to know about his talent and focus and mental strength . . .

Beyond the first thought: that in the absence of human competition, his own body could prove to be the most serious impediment to the five more majors he needs to surpass Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 . . .

Beyond all that is this fascinating prospect:

Can Tiger Woods . . . should he . . . might he be forced to reinvent himself once again, re-tool his golf swing for the third time in 11 years, and for the first time re-calibrate the one element of his game that the world (and perhaps he himself) over-values - raw power?

And if he did, could he still outplay everyone else?

I believe he could. I believe that a Tiger Woods swinging at 75 per cent of his body's capability - hitting stinger 3-woods and geared-down drivers off the tee - would still be in the top 20 in driving distance, and would be in the fairway a lot more often, leaving himself in position to let the rest of his game win it for him: his mind, his wedge, his putter.

And putting a lot less stress on that knee.

I've always believed that if he dropped his tee shot next to, say, Jim Furyk's - or pick a name of any straight, medium hitter - he could win from there as comfortably as he does from 50 yards further downfield, in the rough. He's a terrific iron player, wonderful out of the sand, creative out of greenside rough, and by far the best clutch putter of his generation.

Of course, the world loves a home-run hitter, and his endorsement potential might suffer if he were to suddenly become a control player, and not the biggest, baddest, physical specimen on Tour. But if the choice were that, or an early end to the pursuit of Nicklaus, wouldn't he take the former? Any of us might, but none of us is Tiger.

"My doctors assure me with the proper rehabilitation and training, the knee will be strong and there will be no long-term effects," Woods said, on his website.

Except the doctors can't possibly know that.

You may recall that there were rumblings last week that a player close to the Woods camp had expressed Tiger's own concern about the knee. Remember the fist-pump at last year's PGA Championship, when Woods' knee buckled? He said it was nothing, but three weeks earlier, he now admits, he had ruptured the ACL while running near his home in Orlando.

He declined surgery, kept playing, and kept quiet. His record in 13 tournaments since then: 10 wins, two seconds, one fifth.

He won the U.S. Open on one leg, beating Rocco Mediate in a dramatic 19-hole playoff, and finally had to surrender to the pain.

Woods said he didn't disclose the truth about his knee last week because "I wanted to be very respectful of the USGA and their incredibly hard work, and make sure the focus was on the U.S. Open. 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."

And, perhaps, on rethinking the necessity of hitting it 330 off the tee.

ccole@png.canwest.com

Organizations: U.S. Open, USGA

Geographic location: Vancouver, Readerland, Orlando

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