Tiger will be ready for Torrey Pines

Monday June 9th, 2008
"I feel bad because this just slows down his march to history," said Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger
Robert Beck/SI

The Man wants me to be controversial. He wants Buzz with a capital B. The Man knows the surest way to get attention is to say what hasn't been said, what others are afraid to say. That's why He wants me to write off Tiger Woods in this space. Because "Tiger's Era is over" or "Tiger loses Battle of Wounded Knee" would be one hell of a headline, buzz dripping off it like honey off Pooh's nose.

The Man suffers from recurring bouts of Tigermania. Or, in His case, Tiger-hysteria. Tiger sells magazines and newspapers, golf telecasts and whole golf tours, plus assorted Buicks, watches, credit cards and, well, pretty much everything in the world. Tiger has had almost two months off after knee surgery, which came as a stunning surprise two days after the Masters. The Man still has the shakes about Tiger's "procedure" and is in withdrawal with Tiger's absence.

He heard rumors that Tiger's injury was worse than we know. He knows this is the third surgery on Tiger's knee and He learned in grade school that, three strikes and you're out. He points out that Ernie Els blew out his knee a few years back while tubing behind a boat and hasn't been the same player since. Well, Ernie was in his late 30s, engrossed in bringing up his young family and already no longer putting like young Ernie.

This is Tiger. He's 32 years young and the fittest player in golf — by a furlong. An injury couldn't happen to a player who's more physically prepared to deal with an issue than Tiger.

The Man won't like this. He'd love me to write something sensational. Why Tiger can't win the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines this week. Why Tiger's run is over. Or better yet, Relax, Jack — your record of 18 majors is safe after all.

But I don't believe it for a second. So I'm going to stick it to The Man. Tiger finally toured Torrey Pines last week in a cart — The Man saw that as a bad omen. Tiger called his injury "no big deal." The Man hates deflating quotes. He's going to hate that I agree with Tiger regarding NBD (no big deal), too.

I know two things about Tiger going into this Open. One, Tiger isn't often wrong. OK, he fouled out with his recent comment that nobody watches hockey anymore. Check the ratings, sir. The Stanley Cup playoffs drum just about any golf tourney when it comes to viewers. If there's one sport that nobody watches anymore, it's golf, the sport that nobody ever watched, period. Golf on TV and in print has thrived on demographics (mostly affluent men over 40, a key advertiser buy), not tiny viewership numbers. Otherwise, Tiger tells it straight whether the topic is drug-testing, hot drivers or Rory Whatshisname.

Two, stop and think how bad Tiger's knee was before he had surgery. It was so awful that he won at Bay Hill in March and he just missed winning the Masters for a fifth time, finishing second to Trevor Immelman. So he got his knee scoped, and walking was a bit of an issue for a while, but he was still able to hit balls and chip and putt.

The Man can't understand how Tiger can be ready for the Open without playing a tournament for two months, just like He can't remember how Tiger came back from his second knee surgery. Also at Torrey Pines. And he won, one of his six Buick Invitational victories there.

I asked Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger about Tiger's injury situation and he answered, "I feel bad because this just slows down his march to history."

I'm not sure Tiger's march to history will be slowed at all. He was winning with a bad knee, and now he's got a repaired knee. Isn't that better? And if his knee does cause him to throttle back a gear, it might be a good thing because I thought Tiger was over-swinging at times (notably at the '07 Open at Oakmont). Check out the world rankings; Tiger is No. 1 by a gap big enough for John Daly to waddle through.

Tiger will be ready for Torrey Pines. He will contend, he may even win. The Man wanted a big deal. This wounded knee story isn't it. Major Championship No. 14, if it happens this week, would be. Maybe then The Man will lighten up.

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