- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

What a difference a week makes.

Seven short days ago, the golf world was bracing for the opening salvo of Tiger Woods’ Grand Slam bid. Now, it’s forced to consider the implications of a third surgical procedure on the major maven’s left knee.

In a move that has become customary for the tightlipped Woods camp, the 13-time major champion released the latest surprising bulletin on his Web site earlier this week, explaining he had undergone surgery in Utah on Tuesday to repair cartilage damage in his left knee.

“I made the decision to deal with the pain and schedule the surgery for after the Masters,” Woods wrote on tigerwoods.com. “The upside is that I have been through this process before and know how to handle it.”

The downside, which Woods decided not to address, is that this is the same knee that has twice before required surgery.

In 1994, Woods had a benign tumor removed from the knee. In 2002, the same surgeon who handled Tuesday’s scope, Thomas Rosenberg, removed a cyst from the area and drained fluid off the joint.

Woods underwent the procedure that year just before Christmas, then skipped the first five events of the 2003 season. He returned to competition at the Buick Invitational, where he won the second of his six titles at Torrey Pines in San Diego, the host venue for this year’s U.S. Open June 9-15.

Woods expects to begin practicing in earnest six weeks from now and could return for the Memorial, Jack Nicklaus’ invitational tournament, which takes place two weeks before the Open. But if the 32-year-old golf goliath experiences any pain or difficulty during his rehabilitation, he doesn’t have much wiggle room before the Open and could arrive at Torrey Pines still rusty and recovering.

“He just needed to go in there and clean it out,” said swing instructor Hank Haney, who acknowledged Woods has been experiencing discomfort since late last season in spite of his stellar play. “He deals with this stuff incredibly like you would expect him to.”

Though everyone in the sport learned the perils of doubting Woods long ago, it’s difficult to dismiss what now must be considered a recurring issue. A golfer’s leading knee, along with his leading wrist and back, endures the most stress during the swing. And Woods’ explosive coil puts more tension on his joints than that of easier swingers like Ernie Els.

Long ago, golf-writing guru Dan Jenkins posited the theory that “only a disastrous marriage or a disastrous injury” could stop Woods from passing Nicklaus’ mark of 18 major victories.

Tuesday’s outpatient procedure hardly qualifies as “disastrous” in and of itself, but it’s tough not to wonder whether his left knee is developing into his ultimate opponent.

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