Things happen fast in sports. One minute, we're all talking about Tiger's inevitable run to the Grand Slam and a major championship season that was laid out in front of him like dominoes (Augusta, Torrey Pines, Royal Birkdale, Oakland Hills, helloooo Bobby Jones!). The next, Tiger's putter turns cold, he takes a surgeon's knife to his left knee and a golfing nation turns its lonely eyes to the LPGA Tour (Helloooo Lorena Ochoa!). With all due respect to the Boos and Bubbas of our golfing world, spring and summer just won't feel the same without Tiger chasing the specter of Bobby Jones. Tiger's injury, which will likely force him to miss Wachovia and the Players Championship, may also wreak havoc on his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 professional majors, at least in the short term. What will Tiger's game be like when he returns from knee surgery? Will he have a tune-up event before June's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines (the Memorial, from May 29 to June 1, seems logical), or will a long rehab force him to jump right into a major championship cold? And how sharp will he be when he picks up the sticks?
Tennis players call it being "match tough," and it's a good guess that Tiger won't be when he stands over his first shot of the U.S. Open. He'll have missed weeks of practice, not to mention competitive rounds at tough courses like Quail Hollow and the TPC Sawgrass, that would have aided his pursuit of a third U.S. Open title. The good news for Tiger? He has six victories at Torrey Pines, including one following a similar layoff after knee surgery in December of 2002.
The bad? He won't be returning to THAT Torrey Pines, but rather a rough-strewn, lightning-quick Torrey Pines that's been prepped for a U.S. Open. Two years ago, after the death of his father and a respite from golf, Tiger returned to the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and missed the cut. He later admitted he just wasn't as prepared as he needed to be. While a missed cut at this year's Open seems far-fetched for a player who knows every nook and cranny of the course, don't expect Tiger's week in San Diego to be an easy, seaside stroll.
(Photo: Fred Vuich/SI)