Testing times for wounded Tiger

Golf

It has been almost three years since Woods clinched the last of his 14 major titles and the prospect of adding any more in the near future dimmed as he dejectedly limped off after nine holes at the TPC Sawgrass.

Ever since his private life unravelled in sensational fashion at the end of 2009 and he tried to repair his crumbling marriage, Woods has struggled for form on the course.

Known for his extraordinary work ethic, he has been unable to practise as much as he would like because of family commitments and he has also been toiling with the fourth swing change of his professional career.

Aged only 35, Woods has already had four surgeries on his troublesome left knee and his latest injury setback comes at an inconvenient time with the second major of the year, the US Open, fast approaching.

Woods is a three-times winner of his national open and had initially planned to compete in last week's Quail Hollow Championship, the Players and then the June 2-5 Memorial tournament to complete his US Open build-up. However, he was forced to pull out of Quail Hollow because of mild strains to his left knee and left Achilles' tendon and those same injuries led to his withdrawal from the Players on Thursday.

Woods is rapidly running out of time in his preparations for the June 16-19 US Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

“A medial collateral ligament sprain one would expect to heal typically within two to four weeks,” sports medicine surgeon Dr Robert Frederick told Reuters on Thursday. “More significant is what is going on in his knee and with the Achilles’ tendon. Rest may heal the injuries but rest also keeps him from the course and the practice tee which allows him to prepare for such events.

“The chances of him getting back within the next couple of weeks to aggressively pursue practice rounds are probably not very promising.”

Frederick, a doctor at the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia who is an assistant team physician for the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Flyers, was most concerned about Woods's knee.

“That left knee has had multiple surgeries and over time the arthritic changes become more of an issue,” he said.  Comfortably the best player of his generation and arguably of all time, Woods has slipped to eighth in the world rankings and has not won a tournament since the 2009 Australian Masters.

He has lost the aura of dominance he enjoyed while piling up his own tally of 14 majors and he can no longer count on being injury-free in his late thirties as he continues his bid to close in on his 'Holy Grail', the Nicklaus mark.

However, Woods remains fully focused on achieving that aim. “When I first started this (professional golf) at 20 years old, I certainly didn't think I would be at 14 (majors) by now,” the American told Reuters earlier this year. “I am very happy to be where I am at but certainly I want a lot more. It took Jack a very long time, 20-plus years, to get to this point. Hopefully I can do that (surpass 18 majors).”

Perhaps the one burning question is for how much longer Woods is prepared to struggle out on the course where once he reigned supreme. He has repeatedly said he would quit the game whenever he felt he was unable to compete at the highest level.

“For me it is very simple, it (the time to quit) is when my best isn't good enough any more,” Woods told Reuters shortly before he won his most recent major at the 2008 US Open.  “I am trying to prolong it, that early exit. One of the great things about our sport is you can play as long as you want. But do you want to play in mediocrity? That is the thing that I would have a hard time with.”

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