Golf

Tiger's year keeps getting worse

Robert Lusetich explains the biggest threat to Tiger's career.
Robert Lusetich explains the biggest threat to Tiger's career.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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In a statement announcing his reluctant withdrawal from next week’s US Open, Tiger Woods characterized this as “a frustrating and difficult year.”

Ya think?

After Woods lost his image, his marriage and his aura of invincibility on the golf course in the wake of a tabloid sex scandal, 2011 was to be the year he clawed his way back.

But the plan to rebuild the Tiger brand was always predicated on Woods returning to being the most dominant golfer in the game.

Instead, erratic play to begin the season and, now, injuries leave the 35-year-old as far away from the top of the mountain as he’s been in 14 years.

Now ranked 15th in the world — his lowest ranking since before he won his first major, the ’97 Masters — Woods will miss a US Open for the first time since 1994, when he’d just graduated from high schoool.

He will now have gone 12 majors since his last victory, the longest barren streak of his career; his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors remains stalled on 14.

Worse for him, the Open’s being played at Congressional, on the outskirts of Washington, DC, a course Woods loves and on which he won the AT&T National the last time it was played there, in 2009.

"Not playing in US Open,” he wrote on Twitter. “Very disappointed. Short-term frustration for long-term gain."

The question now becomes whether the frustration’s only going to be limited to the short term.

His late father, Earl, once predicted that the only things that could derail his son in eclipsing Jack’s record were a bad marriage and injuries.

What he couldn’t have foreseen was that they’d come one after the other, both taking a great toll on Woods.

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But while he’s learning to adjust to life as a single parent, there’s no learning to adjust to life as a right-handed golfer with a bad left leg.

Simply put, Woods can’t ever hope to play at anywhere near his best without a stable left leg.

He’s had four surgeries on his left knee and is experiencing trouble with his left Achilles’ tendon, which is bothering him more than the knee.

Experts say that those injuries — as well as the calf problems he’s had — are all related and that although they could heal with rest and therapy and Woods could be back in action over the July 4 weekend at the AT&T National, they could also keep plaguing him.

Until last week Woods was wearing a boot and had to use crutches.

Although he’s been able to hit balls for only a few days and was facing an uphill battle to be ready for the US Open, he meant to play at Congressional.

His caddie, Steve Williams, flew to Oregon, where he’s got a home, from New Zealand on Sunday and was planning to head to Orlando to join Woods when he got news of the withdrawal.

"I am extremely disappointed that I won't be playing in the U.S. Open, but it's time for me to listen to my doctors and focus on the future," Woods said in a statement posted on his website.

"I was hopeful that I could play, but if I did, I risk further damage to my left leg.

“My knee and Achilles tendon are not fully healed.”

Woods hurt himself at the Masters while hitting an awkward shot out of pine straw.

At first he characterized the injuries as minor, but then pulled out of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, one of his favorite tournaments.

He tried to come back at The Players Championship but was 6 over par through nine holes when he limped off the course.

Maybe the possibility of another messy WD at Congressional might have helped Woods see the wisdom in his doctors’ advice?

It’s worth noting, though, that he didn’t listen to his doctors in 2008 when they told him he couldn’t play in the US Open at his beloved Torrey Pines.

Back then, he famously responded that he’d not only play with a broken leg but that he’d win the tournament.

Times have changed.

Woods must have felt invincible three years ago as he willed his way to major No. 14.

Now he’s an old 35, hasn’t won in 22 tournaments and is in need of some good breaks.

For he’s had a lot of bad ones lately.
 

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