PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- When last we saw Tiger Woods in competition, he was completing what he calls the greatest major championship victory of his storied career, defeating Rocco Mediate in a sudden-death playoff at the U.S. Open, despite playing with a torn ACL and multiple leg fractures.
Two days later, the 14-time major winner announced his season was finished after just six PGA Tour appearances.
In the time since then, Woods has faced surgery, recovery and plenty of rehab. On Tuesday, he sat down on the ESPN.com Hot Seat to discuss playing through pain, his current physical status and the timetable for his 2009 return.
Q: Have you had a chance to sit down and watch highlights from this year's U.S. Open?
A: I have, yes.
Q: What goes through your mind when you see yourself limping and wincing around Torrey Pines?
A: Well, at the time, I didn't think I was showing that much. You know, because of how much it hurt, I was trying not to show it at all, but at times it grabbed me. I tried not to show it, but it was killing me. I was the only guy sweating out there. It was a little bit cool, and with all the pain, as you know, I did sweat a bit.
Q: Was there ever a point where you came close to saying, "That's it. I can't do this anymore. I have to withdraw?"
A: Uh-un. You find a way. Just hop along.
Q: You know, there are people who argue that you risked too much by competing that week.
A: This is true.
Q: What do you say to them?
A: I won.
Q: I've heard plenty of athletes in other sports give answers to this question, but I'm interested in your response: What's the difference between being hurt and injured?
A: I think hurt is just knick-knack pain that you can deal with. Being injured is something that is going to require a lot of time off, usually surgery. Injuries are really, really tough to play through, because they alter how you play. Pain is no big deal; you can play through pain, you don't have to alter how you go about your business. Football players play with pain all the time. It is what it is. Because injured is a totally different deal, because then you're now compensating so much that you're not able to do what you want to do.
Q: Let's talk about your rehab and recovery. What are you working on right now? Take me through a typical day.
A: Oh, every day changes. Day to day, every day is different. It's about six days a week.
Q: Give me some examples of exactly what you're working on.
A: It's lifting, it's cardio, it's in the pool. It's lots of stuff.
Q: Do you still have pain in the knee?
Q: What about the leg fractures?
A: Oh, they're healed.
Q: How confident do you feel partaking in ordinary, everyday activities?
A: I feel good. I can do everything, except for rotation right now. I'm not allowed to rotate yet.
Q: How about the golf game -- have you taken any full swings since the surgery?
A: Not allowed to.
A: Next year.
Q: Any specific date?
A: Whenever my surgeons say. You have to let the ligament heal. It has to get more taut. I don't want to stretch it out. I don't want to have it go back to where it was. So I have to keep it taut, which means no rotation, everything in a straight plane.
Q: Are you itching to get back onto the course? I mean, most avid 14-handicappers would be dying to get back out there. How about you, not being able to play?
A: Not really. Not really at all. That's one of the surprising things about it because I knew if I did come back, as of right now I wouldn't be very good. Because one, I'll be so limited I can't do anything. All I can do is just putt. Or hit a chip shot. Big deal, anybody can do that. As far as making full swings, I'm really not allowed to do that.
Q: When you're dealing with a physical injury, how do you remain sharp mentally?
A: That's the easy part. Remaining sharp mentally is the easy part. It's the physical skills, that takes repetition. The mind part of the game, because it's so slow, you can practice it. Whereas other sports, reactionary sports, with speed, you have to rehearse those things again and again and again, with reflexes. In golf, because it's so slow, your thought process doesn't have to be as fast.
Q: Not to get too philosophical, but has this layoff caused you to ponder life after golf?
A: Not necessarily. Not in the sense that I'm still going to do the same things I was going to do anyway. As far as walking away from the game, I might have a much easier time.
Q: Vijay Singh won the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup this year at age 45. Do you envision still playing full-time when you're 45?
A: If I'm still good enough, yeah, definitely.
Q: You've often maintained that you've never teed it up at an event you didn't believe you could win. Will that still be the case for your first tournament back in 2009?
Q: You're on record as saying your timetable for a return to competition is uncertain. How confident are you that you'll make it back in time for the Masters in April?
A: Very. Very confident.
Q: What is it that makes you feel confident?
A: Just the timetable. If I have six months off from surgery, that puts me into January, and another four months, that puts me at pretty much 10 months. That's a long time. I figure I can come back after 10 months.
Q: Is that what doctors have told you?
A: Well, athletes have come back and played football in as little time as four or five months after ACLs, but generally it's between six and nine months and they're able to come back and compete and play. And if they can do it at that level, I hope I can do it in golf.
Q: If you had to ballpark guess, when do you think you'd be back on the course?
A: I don't know. It's the ramp up. It's hitting full shots, progressing through the bag, ultimately playing, playing the game, getting sharp. And sharp enough for, I can go, try and play an event. I don't know how long that's going to be, because I don't know what the surgeon's going to allow me to do as far as the ramp up process. You don't want to stretch out the ligament, you don't want to have too much swelling in how you recover from day to day. All of that is all unknown. So as far as getting back early in the year, I really don't know.
Q: Do you look at the calendar and say, "I'd love to be back for Bay Hill or Doral or another tournament before the Masters starts?"
A: I'd like to be back soon, but I don't know when "soon" is. That's the most frustrating thing for an athlete is that usually you have certain dates that you can look forward to and prepare and know mentally and physically that's what it's going to do, that's when I'm going to compete again. But I don't know. And as soon as the year starts and I can start swinging and practicing and the surgeons and my trainer take a look at what's going on with me and the residual effects, then we'll have a pretty good understanding of when I can start competing.
Q: Do you anticipate having to undergo swing changes upon your return?
A: I've been trying to make swing changes for years [laughs].
Q: Any more?
A: You're always making swing changes. It is what it is. That's golf. You're always tinkering.
Q: When do you expect to be back to 100 percent?
A: As far as the ligament, about two years. The first six months it's about 85 percent. And over the next year and a half, it begins that next 15 percent.
Q: When you're working this hard to return to competition, what's your biggest motivation?
Q: How much golf have you watched since June?
A: [Laughs] I watched the Ryder Cup, but that was it. As far as guys winning events, I really haven't watched hardly anything. I watched a little bit of the AT&T National when AK [Anthony Kim] won. I watched a few holes of the British Open, the last three holes there. I caught the last three and a half holes of the PGA. But as far as that, I haven't watched anything.
Q: Let's talk Ryder Cup. Which of the following adjectives best describes how you felt when the U.S. clinched it: Ecstatic, reserved or jealous?
A: I felt great for the guys, especially the guys who have been on the team for a long time -- Phil [Mickelson], myself, [Jim] Furyk have been on the team the longest. Phil started in '95; Furyk and I started in '97. We've been through all of those losses together. Jim sent me a great text. He had just gotten into the clubhouse and he sent me a great text saying, "I wish you could be here to experience this," because we had gone through all of the losses together. We've won Presidents Cups, but we haven't won a Ryder Cup since '99. And he said, it would have been nice for you to experience this again.
Q: You've only won one of five Ryder Cups as a player. Was there just a tinge of jealousy at all?
A: No, not at all.
Q: Switching gears, congrats on baby No. 2 coming up in late winter.
A: Thank you.
Q: Boy or girl?
A: I don't know.
Q: You're not going to find out?
A: No, we didn't find out with the first one.
Q: Is there a chance that could push back your return to competition?
A: I don't know. I don't know what my timetable is golf-wise. Obviously, it's going to impact us. It's going to impact my sleep [laughs]. I have a feeling I won't be getting a whole lot of sleep.
Q: Election Day is coming up. Who gets your vote for PGA Tour Player of the Year?
A: That's a good question. I really don't know yet.
Q: You've got to figure it out pretty soon. You don't have much time left.
A: But I still have time [laughs].
Q: Have you ever voted for yourself?
Q: Tell me about the upcoming "Gillette EA Sports Champions of Gaming Tournament powered by Xbox LIVE."
A: It's going to be exciting. October 31st, we're going to have people based all over the world competing against one another and the winners get to compete against myself or Thierry Henry or Roger [Federer] and all the other sports stars. It should be pretty incredible.
Q: Tiger Woods, you are off the ESPN.com Hot Seat.
A: You got it, dude.
Jason Sobel covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.