The wincing wasn't an act. The limping appears to have been genuine. When Tiger Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, offered his boss a hand during last week's U.S. Open, it was because he needed it.
Woods announced last week he'll undergo season-ending surgery on his left anterior cruciate ligament. He also revealed he'd suffered from a double stress fracture of his left tibia since before the Memorial Tournament, about two weeks before the U.S. Open.
Woods' doctors advised against him playing in the U.S. Open, telling him his knee could worsen over the course of 72 holes. Not only did Woods ignore them, he sank a putt on the 72nd hole to extend the tournament what would be another 19 holes -- a double fist pump with a double stress fracture.
Why would Woods play with so much at stake to his long-term health? Because Torrey Pines, the site of this year's U.S. Open, is Woods' golf course. There, he won a Junior World Championship and claimed six wins in the Buick Open.
It was also a major, and Woods is still hunting Jack Nicklaus' record of 18.
Woods did not disappoint.
The day after the Monday playoff, the debate was on about where the performance ranked in history. Those who claimed Woods was milking it now need a mulligan.
As we now know, this was much more than the after effects of the arthroscopic knee surgery Woods underwent following the Masters Tournament. The stress fractures and broken-down ACL vault Woods' performance into the "all-time" talks.
Willis Reed only played 15 minutes during his dramatic return in the 1970 NBA Finals. Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series is more comparable. But all he had to do was swing once and amble around the bases.
Woods swung 358 times and walked 91 holes.
Now he's done. No one can be certain for how long. But he'll definitely miss the next two majors and September's Ryder Cup. And, as others have written, this could be looked back on as a turning point in Woods' career.
For years, he's been selective in the tournaments he's played. That will only increase from here. Majors will be targeted more than ever.
Woods might eventually undergo a swing transformation to lessen the stress on his left knee. As he's shown numerous times in the past, swing changes have not been a problem for Woods.
What could be a problem is returning with the same fire. There's no doubt Woods has more focus than any athlete of his generation. But that could change.
We've been acquainted with Phil Mickelson's family over the years. And Zach Johnson capped his Masters win by kissing his child.
We hadn't seen anything of the sort from Woods until Monday.
After the win, his wife, Elin, handed him their daughter, Sam Alexis. Woods held the baby and then attempted to give her back, but she reached out for him again.
The family pull is something new for Woods, and it could affect the way he approaches his career from here on out. I don't see Woods abandoning his assault on Nicklaus' record, but there are a lot more variables to consider now than there were two weeks ago.
But as Woods showed, he's not bad at dealing with the unexpected.
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