Tiger Woods yesterday confessed that he has not yet played 18 holes since surgery nine weeks ago, but insisted that he will be ready for tomorrow's first round of the US Open. It is never wise to doubt the world No 1, but all the talk here at Torrey Pines is that his chances of winning his 14th major have been dramatically reduced.
Woods, himself, was typically guarded about his injury, although did admit that his left knee was still "a little sore" after the operation he had two days after the Masters in April. And the fact that in the three days of practice so far he felt unable to walk more than nine holes inevitably only added further weight to theory that he is nothing like the hot favourite he would normally be at a course where he has enjoyed so much success. "Is my knee fully recovered? Probably not," said Tiger.
The sense of his fallibility was expressed most starkly in the odds about Woods collecting his third US Open title. A month ago he was as short as even money, but now he is out to 7-2, the longest he has been in a major since 2004. That price will still seem on the skinny side to many, as just three weeks ago Woods was worrying whether he would be able to appear here as the pain forced him to miss his scheduled warm-up event, The Memorial.
"I was not feeling good enough to know that I was 100 per cent sure to play all four days," said the 32-year-old. "I'm good to go now. Come game time I'll be ready."
So the question is no longer whether he will play, but how he will play. Woods believes his biggest test will be finding his rhythm quickly enough. "There's a little bit of not knowing what to expect," he said. "I haven't played competitively since the Masters. It'll be all about getting into the flow, dealing with the adrenalin, all these different things that the guys have been experiencing these past few months and I haven't. But I'm really excited about getting out there and feeling that again."
When told that certain experts have been saying that he cannot possibly do it, Woods replied: "Yeah, I've heard that before." Nobody in sport has ever had to conquer the odds like this man, although he does acknowledge the lay-off was difficult. He has had to fight his natural instinct to be active as he has followed a gradual recovery programme. Yet, aptly enough for this sporting one-off, some of his recuperation methods were unorthodox.
When a baby screams out in the night, the father is wont to roll over and let the mother restore peace. Not Tiger. Where other men could see only a sleepless night ahead, Woods sees an opportunity to work out. "When Sam wakes up at 2am I get on the leg-press machine and put her on my lap," he said. "Six hundred repetitions later, she's out." His rivals know how the one-year-old feels. This week could just be a rare break.