Commentary

Only a U.S. Open victory would silence talk of Tiger skipping Memorial

Updated: May 27, 2008, 3:59 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Let the second-guessing commence.

It was announced Friday that Tiger Woods will not return from arthroscopic knee surgery in time to take part in next week's Memorial Tournament, meaning he will have been on an eight-week hiatus from competitive golf before teeing it up at the U.S. Open on June 12. If you believe in the old axiom that warns that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, Woods' extended respite could be an ominous sign as he pursues his 14th career major championship title at Torrey Pines. Two years ago, Woods sat out for nine weeks leading up to the 2006 edition of the year's second major, then shot 76-76 at Winged Foot and missed the cut.

Then again, the game's No. 1-ranked player is quick to point out that the two situations are completely dissimilar.

"To be honest with you, when I took time off a couple years ago after my father had passed, that was a totally different mental situation than I am now," Woods said via teleconference on May 12. "Even when I came back for the Open, I probably wasn't ready to play yet. I was eager to get back and play and be in a competitive environment, but I wasn't ready to deal with all the things you have to deal with inside the ropes and compete and play, and it showed, and I played terrible.

"This time around, it's totally different. Everything in my life is doing great. I'm just trying to get the leg organized enough to where I can play."

Like anyone with a major decision impending -- stress the word "major" -- perhaps Woods sat down with pen and paper in an attempt to produce a list of pros and cons as to whether he should make his return at the Memorial.

Considering that he underwent the surgery to repair his ailing left knee just days after finishing in solo second place at the Masters and hasn't played any tournament golf in the six weeks since, foremost on the "PROS" side of that list would have simply been the opportunity to get back into the swing of things before the U.S. Open. Woods likely could have squeezed in 72 holes, gotten a feel for how his rehabilitated knee would hold up under such duress and acclimated himself to life in the competitive arena once again.

Most prevalent under the "CONS" column must have been fear that the injury simply wasn't ready to endure the stress of repeated swings at an average speed of 125 mph, embracing the notion that only negatives can befall Woods before heading to Torrey Pines.

In the end, the cons outweighed the pros, as Woods decided to lay up rather than involving himself in the ultimate risk/reward scenario by competing in Jack Nicklaus' own PGA Tour event.

It's difficult to criticize any of Woods' strategic maneuvers -- on or off the course -- and his most recent decision was certainly made with an eye toward the upcoming major on a track where he has found so much previous success. A six-time winner of the annual Buick Invitational, Woods has never minced words when stating his priorities toward filling the trophy case with as many major championship trophies as possible.

And so we have to believe that, in this case, the desire to return to competition in advance of the U.S. Open was superseded by an inability to fully recover as quickly as he would have liked. The assessment falls in line with what Woods claimed just two weeks ago, when asked how the knee was progressing.

"I'm chipping and putting. I'm not doing anything beyond that," he said. "Hopefully, I'll start hitting balls and start progressing soon and working my way up the bag."

As to whether the competitive fires were burning, Woods sounded resigned to the fact that he knew he wasn't ready.

"I couldn't compete against those guys unless we were playing a putt-putt course. All I could do was chip and putt. I think they would have a distinct advantage over me for anything over 30 yards. No, it doesn't really bother me that I wasn't able to play, just given the condition that I'm in right now."

At a tournament-record 7,643 yards, Torrey Pines' South Course won't exactly resemble a putt-putt venue. Woods will be going cold into the year's most ferocious setup, not having competed since the final round at Augusta National on April 13. If he wins his third career U.S. Open title, the decision to forgo the Memorial will be lavished with praise, another successful strategic move in a career filled with them. Anything less, however, and the second-guessers will be left wondering why Tiger Woods didn't give it a shot at the Memorial, if only to dust off the cobwebs.

Jason Sobel covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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