U.S. Open: Tiger makes things exciting

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2008

By Ray McNulty
Associated Press
There will be no excuses.
Not this weekend.
Not at this United States Open.
Not for Tiger Woods.
“I’m good to go,” the two-time champion said Tuesday during his pre-tournament media session at Torrey Pines in San Diego. “I’m here. I plan on playing competitive. Come game time, I’ll be ready.”
So, please, let’s not hear any more talk about his knee and the surgery and how he hasn’t played since The Masters.
As the old saying goes: If you’re hurt, don’t play. If you play, you’re not hurt.
Tiger is playing.
So he’s not hurt.
“It’s a little sore,” he said, “but nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”
And won with before.
Champions do that.
They find ways to win when they’re not feeling their best.
Besides, pain is as much a part of sports as winning and losing ó in all sports, really ó especially when athletes play their way into the meat of their seasons.
Whether the game is baseball or football, basketball or hockey, tennis or golf, almost every player has some sort of ache somewhere.
A sprain.
A strain.
A bruise or a tweak or some kind of stiffness.
Many athletes have a trouble spot, a nagging injury that never seems to fully heal, a part of the body that haunts them. For Tiger, it’s the left knee, which has been the target of three operations ó two in the past five years, the most recent on April 15.
“Is it fully recovered?” Woods said. “Probably not.”
But that doesn’t matter.
He’s playing.
So he’s not hurt.
No more than most of his challengers, anyway.
“You don’t realize most of the guys out there are a little bit nicked up, a little bit injured,” Tiger said in a different interview last week. “But, generally, it isn’t their left knee. It’s usually their left hip, right hip, lower back, neck, shoulder, wrist, elbows. Those are very common injuries. And some guys get even a little more severe than that.
“But for me, it’s been my left knee. That’s where the force of my golf swing has taken the brunt of it. And it’s one of the reasons why I made the changes I’ve been working on over the years ó to try to get rid of some of that, alleviate the strain of that, so I can play for a longer duration.
“It’s been working, but, still, I’ve done it for so long. People don’t realize I’ve been playing golf for 30 years.”
And Tiger has always taken one of the bigger swings in the game.
So, maybe, we shouldn’t be surprised that his knee, after all that twisting and all that torque, hasn’t held up.
Nor, though, should anyone be surprised if Tiger triumphs, despite his absence from the PGA Tour the past couple of months:
Tiger has won six times on this course, albeit a milder version that serves as the home of the Buick Invitational.
Although the course has been altered for the 108th U.S. Open, the added length ó it will be the longest layout in the tournament’s history ó and more forgiving fairways should well-suit Tiger’s big-hitting game.
Tiger is, by far, the world’ best golfer, the Tour’s best athlete and the game’s best competitor.
And he’s eager to get back on the course, back in the fight, back on the grand stage, where he’ll chase his 14th major championship.
“I feel very good about coming in and playing,” Tiger said. “I feel good about my practices, my preparation, coming back to a golf course I’ve had some success at. Just really looking forward to getting out there and playing.”
That he will be playing alongside his alleged rival, Phil Mickelson, through the first two rounds is a bonus.
“I like it,” Tiger said of the world’s top-ranked players being grouped together. “I like the way they did it, (Nos.) 1 through 12. I think it’s exciting for the fans, exciting for the players. We all are looking forward to it.”
No one more than Tiger.
He hasn’t won a U.S. Open since 2002. And though his preparation for the tournament hasn’t been what it usually is ó or what he’d like it to be ó he’s too great a champion to offer any excuses in advance.
He’s playing.
So he’s not hurt.
And if he’s not hurt, you better believe he’s playing to win.