The U.S. Open figured to be the closest to a sure thing for Tiger Woods in the majors this year, but maybe not anymore.
Two days after his quest for a Grand Slam fizzled at the Masters, Woods had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee for the second time in five years and will miss at least four weeks while he recovers.
The announcement, which Woods made Tuesday night on his Web site, was a surprise to everyone except those around him.
"He's been having a lot of trouble," swing coach Hank Haney said. "He doesn't talk about stuff like that. He doesn't want to use excuses, you know? I don't think it affected his play. It affected his practice a little bit."
The surgery was performed in Park City, Utah, by Thomas Rosenberg, who also operated on Woods' left knee in December 2002. Woods also had surgery in 1994 on his left knee to remove a benign tumor.
"I made the decision to deal with the pain and schedule the surgery for after the Masters," Woods said on his Web site. "The upside is that I have been through this process before and know how to handle it. I look forward to working through the rehabilitation process and getting back to action as quickly as I can."
But he will not be able to defend his title in two weeks at the Wachovia Championship. And he most likely will miss The Players Championship the week after, one of only three non-majors he has never missed since turning pro. Provided rehab goes as expected, Woods hopes to return at the Memorial on May 29.
The U.S. Open begins June 12 at Torrey Pines, where Woods has won six times in the Buick Invitational. Such is his dominance on the cliffside course north of San Diego that when he opened with a 67 on the South Course this year, a caddie standing behind the 18th green remarked, "He just won two tournaments with one round."
Indeed, Woods went on to an eight-shot victory in his 2008 debut, the first of four straight victories this year.
But it was not necessarily a pain-free affair.
"Tiger has been experiencing pain in his knee since the middle of last year, and when he had it looked at by his doctors, arthroscopic surgery was recommended," said Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent at IMG. "Tiger has played through the pain in the past, but knew it would be better for him to have the procedure done as early as possible."
Steinberg said the surgery repaired cartilage damage. The 2002 surgery drained fluid from around the anterior cruciate ligament and removed a benign cyst.
Woods was limping and wincing toward the end of the '02 season, and it was not surprising to find out he had surgery that kept him out two months, most of that over the holidays.
This time, it only made sense upon reviewing the past nine months.
Woods stumbled and grimaced ever so slightly at Southern Hills last August in the PGA Championship, when he chipped in for birdie behind the eighth green in the final round and backpedaled for a fist pump. In the final two PGA Tour events, in Chicago and Atlanta, he occasionally would press his left foot against a cooler, presumably to stretch his knee.
But it sure didn't affect his golf, not even at the Masters, where he finished three shots behind Trevor Immelman.
"He hit 14 greens in regulation on Sunday," Haney said. "Hard to say it was the knee."
Woods won the Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship in consecutive weeks, then tied for second behind Phil Mickelson at the Deutsche Bank Championship. That was his last loss until late March, the longest winning streak of his career, which covered five PGA Tour events, the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour, and his unofficial Target World Challenge in December.
"I knew he was going to do something this year," Haney said, referring to surgery. "I just didn't know when."
Woods has a remarkable track record when returning from a long layoff. After the '02 surgery, he won three of his first four events, including an 11-shot victory at Bay Hill.
This will be the second time in two years, however, that he missed a chunk of time between the Masters and the U.S. Open. He sat out nine weeks in 2006 to cope with the May death of his father, not returning until the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. He missed the cut for the only time in a major since he turned pro.
Torrey Pines is more familiar turf, even if the setup for the U.S. Open will be vastly different. Woods won the Buick Invitational this year for the third straight time, and he also won there as a junior.
In the meantime, his absence is a blow to the Wachovia Championship and to The Players Championship, regarded as the fifth major.
"Of course, we're disappointed when Tiger is unable to compete in a PGA Tour event," commissioner Tim Finchem said on the tour's Web site. "There is really never a good time for an athlete -- especially one of Tiger's caliber -- to take weeks off from competition during the season. But his health concerns have to come first."
Of greater concern might be the fact Woods has gone through surgery twice on the same knee in five years. He has looked immortal at times on the golf course, already winning 64 times on the PGA Tour and 13 majors, second only to Jack Nicklaus.
Could this slow the pursuit?
Woods won 30 times and five majors since his last surgery, and Haney expects nothing less.
"This is something he's already used to," Haney said. "He deals with stuff incredibly, like you would expect him to."