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THOMAS BONK / ON GOLF

Woods seems ready to take a sabbatical

June 17, 2008|Thomas Bonk

LA JOLLA -- After five days and 91 holes of golf, just after he cuddled his toddler daughter, and moments after he raised the U.S. Open trophy for the third time, Tiger Woods said he didn't feel like playing golf anymore.

"I'm glad I'm done," he said. "I'm done."

Of course, there are vastly different levels of not playing anymore, such as this one: He has had quite enough of the 108th U.S. Open, thank you very much.

But since this is Woods, the star attraction in golf, the most famous athlete in the world and the guy who just won the U.S. Open despite an aching left knee, what he actually meant is wide open to interpretation.

So here's some. No one should be shocked if Woods takes a leave of absence, maybe even a long one.

The Buick Open in two weeks? Not likely.

The AT&T National in three weeks, a tournament of which he is the host? Probably not.

The British Open in five weeks? Don't count it.

Let's hope everybody got a good look at Woods wearing his red coral-colored shirt Monday at Torrey Pines, where he outlasted Rocco Mediate, because we're probably not going to be seeing much more of him and his red shirts for a while.

Less of Tiger. There's a chance that's going to be the case the rest of his career.

What we may have witnessed on the beefy course laid out on the bluffs high above the Pacific Ocean was the beginning of something different, the New Tiger Woods Tour.

The numbers are already there. Woods played 26 tournaments worldwide in 2005, 21 in 2006 and 17 last year. In 2006 and 2007 each, Woods played only 15 PGA Tour events, the fewest since he turned pro.

He's trending downward. He's not playing more tournaments, he's playing fewer, and that's likely to become the norm.

Woods is exempt into every major and if he simply defends his titles, plays the majors and the World Golf Championship events, plus the Players and the Tour championships, he's already in double figures.

Woods turns 33 in a little more than six months. From the time Jack Nicklaus turned 33, he never played more than 18 PGA Tour events in one year and routinely averaged about 15.

The U.S. Open was Woods' fifth PGA Tour event this year and his first in two months since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

There has been speculation that Woods' left knee requires further surgery, that he might need a procedure such as microfracture surgery, along the lines of what Greg Oden, the No. 1 draft pick of the Portland Trail Blazers, needed. Oden sat out this NBA season.

Microfracture surgery stimulates the growth of cartilage. Woods has had surgery on his left knee three times, the last occasion two days after the Masters to clean out cartilage.

Those in Woods' camp would not speculate about the possibility that such a surgery is needed.

With the silver U.S. Open trophy gleaming nearby on a table as Woods answered questions after his victory, he admitted that doctors had told him he risked further injury if he played at Torrey Pines.

Asked whether he had indeed injured himself further, Woods said simply, "Maybe."

That's not good news for a tour that runs on his superstar power, or for television networks and tournament sponsors that use Woods for fuel.

As for Woods, he simply needs to get healthy. He can't and shouldn't go through what he did for five days at Torrey Pines.

It could be that winning the U.S. Open, his 14th major title, might make Woods' decision to shut down easier, because he already has a major victory out of the way this year.

But there are still two majors out there, the British Open at Royal Birkdale and the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, where Woods would be the two-time defending champion. This is also a Ryder Cup year, and the second year of the FedEx Cup series, and Woods is the defending champion of that too.

Look at the calendar. It's still only June, and there is a lot of golf left to be played. But it's starting to look like a part of it, maybe a large part of it, is going to be played without a Tiger in it.

When Woods started out as a pro as a 20-year-old in 1996, he burst on the scene with the catchphrase "Hello, world." His message might soon be something different, like "Catch you later."

--

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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