- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
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There is good news for the world's best professional golfers not named Tiger Woods: You won't have the No. 1-ranked player to deal with for a month, maybe more. The bad news? You'd better enjoy it while you can, because he's likely to come back stronger than before.
Entering this season, it appeared all the stars were aligned for golf's biggest star to sustain the most prolific season of a career already filled with them. Woods maintained that he was striking the ball better than ever before, while his putting stroke was becoming extraordinarily reliable and his ability to win well, that was never in doubt anyway.
After triumphing in each of his first four starts of the season -- at the Buick Invitational, Dubai Desert Classic, Accenture Match Play Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational -- talk began circulating that Woods could make a clean sweep for 2008, the word "perfection" floating through the air like one of his majestic tee shots. When Woods himself referred to the idea of a Grand Slam -- never before accomplished during the modern era -- as "easily within reason," there was nary an opposition to the possibility of such success.
History was put on hold, however, with a fifth-place result at last month's WGC-CA Championship and Sunday's solo second-place finish at the Masters, which he lost by 3 strokes to Trevor Immelman. With Tuesday's announcement that Woods underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, that history will be sidelined just as long as its purveyor's four-to-six-week recovery period -- but not any longer.
If Woods is indeed Superman, his kryptonite may be that left knee, which has now required three separate surgeries. He previously had a benign tumor removed in 1994, and in late 2002, he underwent a similar procedure to his most recent surgery, proving he may not be invincible, but he is indestructible. After his second surgery, he returned neither gimpy nor rusty, winning in his first start at Torrey Pines and taking two of the next three titles as well.
Expect a similar result when Woods returns after this layoff, possibly at the Memorial Tournament in late May, certainly by the U.S. Open in June. That's because he's not only the most talented golfer around, but he works as hard as anyone else. Woods' extended sessions on the driving range and practice green may only pale in comparison with his legendary weight training and running rendezvous, all of which has left him looking more like a free safety than a professional golfer.
"I made the decision to deal with the pain and schedule the surgery 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."
Rehabilitating this knee injury will require extensive work, of course, but if there is one player equipped to handle such a setback, it's the one with 13 career major championships in his back pocket. By scheduling the surgery now, Woods will miss the upcoming Wachovia Championship, Players Championship and, possibly, the Memorial -- three events which have found their way into his permanent rotation. In doing so, though, he's also sounding a familiar siren: It's all about the majors.
Don't believe Woods will be anything less than 100 percent for the U.S. Open when it comes to Torrey Pines. With victories in each of his past four trips to the famed venue, he views the next major on the schedule as his next opportunity to take one more step toward Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories.
Enduring an injury -- and the rehabilitation that comes with it -- is always a daunting prospect for any professional athlete. For Woods, however, it may be only a brief caution flag on the fast lane to history. Think about it: This is a guy who often dominated in recent months with a bothersome knee injury. Just how good is he going to be when fully healed?
All of which is good news for Woods, who should be back to his winning ways not long after returning to duty. And it's bad news for everyone else on the PGA Tour.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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