Tiger Woods' achievement in winning his 14th major on Monday while suffering with an injury was put in stark perspective by yesterday's announcement that he is to miss the rest of the season. The world No 1 requires reconstructive surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee and this will be radical enough to keep him on the sidelines for more than six months.
The news inevitably sent shockwaves through a sport that relies on their superstar like no other. Woods will not only be absent from next month's Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, but also from September's Ryder Cup match in Kentucky. Whatever comes to pass, the 2008 season will be remembered more for the champion forlorn on the treatment table than those who capitalise on the course. "Hollow" will be the cruel description for their victories.
Heaven knows how Retief Goosen felt after publicly stating on Tuesday that he believed Woods was "hamming up" the pain he was feeling during his success at Torrey Pines. The South African was not alone in his doubts and yesterday there were many sheepish looks on the range as the word went around that Woods was also suffering from a double stress fracture of the tibia. He sustained those in trying to rehabilitate too quickly from the operation he underwent straight after The Masters in April.
The resulting stress fractures were the reason for the sudden jolts of pain that saw him double-up in agony a second or two after hitting shots as the reverberations of his almighty swing reached the damaged shin. It was not quite Bert Trautmann in spikes. But it was close.
That Woods managed to walk the 91 holes it took him to see off Rocco Mediate in a Monday play-off was an achievement in itself, but the fact that, in the process, he beat the best players in the world in the game's toughest major, made it, undoubtedly, the finest and most courageous performance in the history of the sport. Little wonder he was so quick to declare it as "my greatest championship". In truth, it was anyone's, although only now has Woods revealed just how great.
"I know much was made of my knee throughout the last week and it was important to me that I disclose my condition publicly at an appropriate time," wrote Woods on his website. "I also wanted to be very respectful of the USGA and make sure the focus was on the US Open."
His determination came at a price as Woods acknowledged in a detailed statement. He all but admitted that he went against the wishes of his doctors who advised him of the implications of continuing to compete. Woods first ruptured the ligament after last year's Open when he was running to his home in Orlando. He elected not to go under the knife then, but to play through the pain barrier and his decision was apparently vindicated when, in one of the golf's most successful streaks, he won nine of the next 10 events he entered, including the USPGA, and collected the record £5m purse of the FedEx Cup.
If anything, though, his talent was his worst enemy, as the injury did not go away. In fact, it worsened. But again in his desire to continue his career-long quest of beating Jack Nicklaus's haul of 18 majors, he opted for the halfway house route of arthroscopic surgery to clean out the cartilage damaged cause by the ACL injury. He erroneously believed that would enable him to play through the rest of season.
The plan was for the 32-year-old to undergo the more thorough procedure at the end of the campaign, in October, and make it back in time for the 2009 Masters. Alas, the stress fractures that came to light just three weeks ago as he tried in vain to be ready for his warm-up event, the Memorial, ripped up those designs and should really have led to his withdrawal from the US Open. "I was determined, though, to do everything and anything in my power to play in the US Open at Torrey Pines, a course close to where I grew up and which holds many special memories for me," Woods said. "And although I will miss the rest of the 2008 season, I'm thrilled with the fact that last week was such a special tournament."
Inevitably, there were whispers in golfing circles yesterday that this could even herald the end for Woods, as he has already had three knee operations, but fortunately medical opinion does not agree. Studies confirm that the normal recovery period for reconstruction on the ACL is between five and nine months and that there is a 95 per cent success rate in patients gaining full use within six months. And this time around Woods has vowed to heed the advice of the experts.
"Now it is clear that the right thing to do is listen to the doctors," he wrote. "I have to do the right thing for my long-term health and come back only when the doctors agree that my knee is sufficiently healthy. My doctors assure me that with proper rehabilitation and training my knee will be strong and there be no long-term effects." No date has yet been set for the surgery, but it understood it could be carried out as early as this weekend.
Last night, golf was counting the cost of their main attraction's enforced wait in the wings. While the Ryder Cup is already a sell-out, it will affect the walk-up ticket sales at Royal Birkdale and a chilling indication of how badly was provided by the only time Woods did not appear in a major on the weekend since he turned professional. When he missed the cut at the US Open in 2006, sources at Winged Foot Country Club said that the projected attendance was down by more than 10 per cent. Yet it is in the television world where the no-show will be most painfully felt.
It has long since been proved that when Woods is in contention the casual sports fan turns on and this was emphatically underlined again yesterday when NBC released their audience figures for the US Open. The play-off drew the best Monday golf ratings in 30 years and NBCSports.com also reported that this was the highest-traffic day in the website's history, setting a single-day record for page views (9.14m) and unique users (2.03m). When this interest is converted into advertising sales and, from there, revenue, it is all too clear that a few budgets will be short of many millions.
Still, not everyone was crying on to their spreadsheet; more than one fellow pro would have been laughing on to his scorecard. Never will his rivals have such an open fairway to the trophies he has monopolised since winning his first major at Augusta in 1997. While the big cat's away and all that...
Meanwhile, Nick Faldo, Europe's Ryder Cup captain, may not be quite as ecstatic, despite America being without the most potent weapon. Remarkably, Woods has only been on the winning team once in his five appearances to date and has always looked strangely fallible in that unique environment. Saying that, he was their top points-scorer in 2006 with three from a possible five, so part of the gloss would be taken off another European success.
Indeed, that follows with all the tournaments he was scheduled to play in the next six months – the Open, the USPGA the WGC events and the FedEx series. It may not bother them, or for that matter their bank managers, but whoever does prevail in these events will forever be the champions with an asterix next to their name. *Tiger did not play.
Knee made 'weird noises'
Paul Casey divulged evidence that proved all was not well with the Tiger joint during the US Open. Casey said he spoke to Robert Karlsson's caddie, Gareth Lord, the day after the Swede partnered Woods. "He said there were weird noises coming from Tiger's knee and he was clearly suffering," Casey said. "On the 18th he stepped up to hit his tee shot and backed off, saying 'I shouldn't hit this one too hard'. Then he made an eagle. Amazing."
The wonder of Woods
1975 Born 30 December, Cypress, California.
1991 Youngest ever winner of the US Junior championship, aged 15.
1992 US Tour debut.
1994 Youngest winner of the US Amateur championship.
1995 Makes the cut on his Masters debut.
1996 Equals the lowest total by an amateur in the Open, finishing 22nd at Lytham. Turns pro.
1997 Becomes youngest US Masters winner with a record 18-under-par total.
1999 Wins US PGA.
2000 Wins US Open, the Open and US PGA.
2001 Wins second Masters, the first player to hold all four Majors at the same time.
2002 Wins back-to-back Masters, equalling Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo. Wins second US Open.
2004 Passes $40m mark for career earnings.
2005 Wins Masters and Open Championship.
2006 Wins Open and US PGA.
2007 Wins US PGA.
2008 Wins US Open – his 14th major. 18 June: announces he will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.