It's been popular all season to say it's been six years since Tiger Woods last won a major championship. This weekend, that phrase officially becomes fact.
Sunday will mark the six-year anniversary to the day of Woods, hobbling around on a left knee ripped to shreds, defeating Rocco Mediate in a playoff at Torrey Pines to earn his third U.S. Open. We know this anniversary will come and go without a repeat performance this week because Woods is again injured—this time to the second most-important part of a golfer's body.
Late last month, the former world No. 1 announced he would not be appearing at Pinehurst as he recovers from back surgery. The microdiscectomy performed in March was expected to keep him out several months, so the announcement was not unexpected.
It's nonetheless the latest setback in a storied career increasingly mired by injury.
Woods has now missed six majors due to injury since his last win. At the time of his knee surgery following the 2008 U.S. Open, he'd finished tied for second or better in seven of his last eight major tournaments. Since, he has only one top-two finish. In 2009.
The results even before the back surgery were distressing. Only three top 10s in his last nine majors. Early leads won, then squandered. The historical mind tricks that come with nearing your 40th birthday and realizing you're well beyond your peak.
There is no word on whether Woods will be healthy enough to make the trip overseas for The Open Championship. In the statement released on his official website, the always-private golfer said nothing of his status for Royal Liverpool. He has also steadfastly refused to put a timetable on his return.
Woods told reporters last month:
There really is no timetable. I think that's been kind of the realization to all of this is that there's no date. It's just take it on a daily basis. It's not going to be up to me whether I play or not, it's going to be up to my docs.
That, my friends, is what we call a statement scrubbed of any possible clues. The closest he came to a statement on where he's at currently is admitting that he has yet to take a full swing. Given that press conference was nearly a month ago and that Woods lets out what he wants to let out, there is no word on his progress.
There are four PGA Tour events between the conclusion of the U.S. Open and The Open Championship. We can probably safely rule Woods out of the next week's Travelers Championship. If he were healthy enough to compete June 19, odds are he would have pushed the schedule ahead seven days for a major. Plus, the Travelers is a lower-tier PGA event anyway; few top guys (if any) will be in the field.
Pure speculation here, but the tournament I'd watch most closely is the Quicken Loans National in a couple of weeks. Woods hosts the event, it benefits his foundation, and he's won at Blue Congressional twice.
In an alternate universe where we can get into Woods' head, perhaps he'll use the Quicken Loans National as his tuneup tournament. The Greenbrier Classic in early July is another possibility.
As for Woods' level of performance, it's fair to wonder how he's going to look upon return. Back injuries are notoriously difficult for golfers. There is torque on your back with every single swing; there's no way around that. Woods' swing has evolved numerous times throughout his career, and it's possible he'll tweak it so that it lessens the impact.
The prognosis from outside the Woods camp has been aces. Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports spoke to several physicians who indicated that Woods could return to his same performance level if the injury heals properly.
"If the problem was just the nerve root impingement, the microdiscectomy could solve that problem," Dr. David Geier told Yahoo!. "If someone already has degenerative conditions in their lower back, there could be problems down the road."
Woods' lack of degeneration is a decidedly positive sign. Positive enough to get him back in time for a trip to Merseyside? No clue. Positive enough to get him back on the 18th green winning a major championship? Again, I have nada.
But if it's positive enough to get him back on a golf course, and soon, that's good enough for me and the sport as a whole.
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