Tiger Woods’ definition of a great year has always been simple – win a major. If he does that, then the year is great. Anything more, and it is greater. Anything less is unacceptable.
Tiger limped his way around the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines last weekend, needing 358 strokes and 91 holes to capture his 14th major championship, and first of the year to define 2008 as great.
In the process he defied doctors' orders, had to resort to painkillers and all but admitted he reinjured or further injured his left knee.
Now he is going to miss the rest of the season to deal with it.
Tiger announced Wednesday on his website he will undergo reconstructive anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his left knee while also taking time to heal a double stress fracture on his left tibia. He also disclosed his ACL had torn last summer while jogging but he decided to wait to treat it.
His march toward breaking Jack Nicklaus' record 18 major championships is on hold until next year's Masters.
"Now, it is clear that the right thing to do is to listen to my doctors, follow through with this surgery, and focus my attention on rehabilitating my knee," he said.
If Woods had won the Masters earlier this year (making it a great year) rather than finish second, perhaps he would have heeded his doctors' advice prior to Torrey Pines. Without that though, there was no chance.
"The diagnosis was not to play in the U.S. Open," Hank Haney, Tiger's swing coach, said Monday before chuckling. "There was no way he wasn't playing the U.S. Open."
That's what makes Tiger, Tiger. His ferocious competitive streak – which in this case may prove harmful – coupled with his intense mental strength allowed him to not only proceed when he shouldn't have, but actually thrive.
If he was going to have to shut it down, it wasn't going to be until after he won a major. Once he got it done, then so was he.
"I'm done," he kept saying on the 91st hole.
"I was determined to do everything and anything in my power to play in the U.S. Open," he said on the website Wednesday. "Although I will miss the rest of the 2008 season, I'm thrilled with the fact that last week was such a special tournament."
What Tiger we get from here on out remains to be seen. This will be his fourth surgery on the knee and it is a complete admission that the arthroscopic one performed in April didn't do the trick. Knee surgeons across the country watched Woods play last weekend, two months after going under the knife, and knew this was not the lingering effects of surgery.
"Arthroscopic surgery on someone to repair a meniscus, that person should be back in eight weeks without any problem," said Dr. Howard Luks, an orthopedic surgeon in Westchester, N.Y. told Yahoo! Sports Monday. "There are some degenerative symptoms or arthritic symptoms, or something that doesn’t respond well to pivoting, turning, and twisting."
It turns out there was even more than that.
Woods said his doctors expect a full recovery and at age 32, youth is still on his side. That said, knee injuries can be nagging and golf is a sport of precise physical movements. Tiger has long been the hardest swinger on the tour and the torque he generates has to be absorbed somewhere. His left knee appears to be that place.
Whether this new surgery can bring him back to the exact same physical condition is the question. If not, can he adjust his swing accordingly? And if not, where exactly does he go from here? He'd still be the best putter on tour and as he displayed at the Open, like an aging boxer he is more than capable of winning on guile and timing.
Tiger's goal of 19 major championships (and beyond) remains highly probable. However, it no longer is just a matter of time, something he'd accomplish in the next year or two.
Woods had reached a stage of his career where he wasn't just winning a lot of majors, he was almost always in contention. Over the last 14 majors he has 12 top four finishes and six victories. One of those misses came after a prolonged absence due to the death of his father.
This was Nicklaus' trick, he was always in it – as incredible as his 18 major victories are, his 19 second places are almost as astounding.
Woods had just begun to reach that level of consistency. In the last eight he had four victories and three seconds. By comparison, over that same period the world's No. 2 golfer, Phil Mickelson, had just one top five.
While Woods lacks that one elite rival to test him, he has to deal with a deep pool of competitors, one of whom seems to step up and challenge him with the tournament of his life. Sometimes a Zach Johnson or an Angel Cabrera gets him; sometimes he gets a Rocco Mediate or a Woody Austin.
For golf, pushing forward without Tiger will be a challenge. The hard core fan will continue to watch, but the casual one – the folks who sent the Open's television ratings through the roof – will have a difficult time believing whomever is winning in Woods' absence is legitimate.
The guy just won the U.S. Open with one leg tied behind his back, after all.
Now he'll undergo surgery and a prolonged rehabilitation. There's nothing important to play for until Augusta in April, when a new season needs to be defined as great.