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Tiger on the Mend 2002 Was Tough Year

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Tiger Woods is a pretty good actor, too.
 
In his first interview since knee surgery, Woods revealed that another dominant performance last year wasn't as easy as it might have looked. Pain in his left knee was so intense he felt sick to his stomach, and even took injections just to keep playing.
 
``It was a tough, tough year, one I don't want to have to go through again,'' Woods said Wednesday during a conference call for the Masters.
 
There was nothing wrong with the results.
 
Despite a knee injury that got worse as the season went on, Woods became the first player in 30 years to win the first two majors. He wound up with six victories worldwide, and swept all the big awards for the fourth straight year.
 
How good would he be on two legs?
 
Woods could get an answer soon. He received clearance from his doctors Saturday to hit a driver and as many practice balls as he wants. He will decide next week whether he is fit enough to return Feb. 13 for the Buick Invitational in San Diego.
 
If not, Woods said he would try to play either of the following weeks, in the Nissan Open at Riviera or the Match Play Championship.
 
Woods had knee surgery when he played at Stanford, although he says this injury is unrelated. He started feeling intermittent pain about two years ago, but it was never sore long enough for him to pay attention.
 
``Last year, toward the end, it was brutal,'' he said. ``A lot of times, I didn't want to go out there and play. I felt nausea in my stomach because the pain was so great. I had it injected numerous times to play last year.
 
``I know what other athletes go through with those needles. It's not fun.''
 
Woods said the pain affected him in some of the majors. It was hard to tell.
 
He won the Masters and U.S. Open by three strokes each, finished second by one stroke in the PGA Championship and was in contention in the British Open until an 81 on a cold, blustery Saturday at Muirfield.
 
``You've got to put it aside and play,'' he said.
 
The worst he felt was at Sherwood Country Club in December, when he made up seven shots on Padraig Harrington in the final round before losing by two. He told his agent the night before he might have to withdraw.
 
``In the morning, it was borderline I would play,'' Woods said. ``I took painkillers, and it still hurt. As it started getting warmer, I was feeling better and said, 'Let's give it a try.'''
 
The one-hour surgery removed fluid from inside and around the anterior cruciate ligament, and removed benign cysts. Woods' doctor said the long-term recovery prospects are good.
 
``But once you've had the procedure done, you're susceptible to having the same procedure,'' Woods said. ``Hopefully, that won't be the case.''
 
Woods never got too far away from golf. He putted on his carpet, chipped into pillows and onto his bed, and started hitting wedges by the end of the year.
 
The real test comes this week.
 
Woods said hasn't felt any pain since he started hitting a few practice balls at his home outside Orlando, Fla.
 
``I need to know if this knee will hold up in a full practice session,'' he said. ``Once I know that, I'll be fine competing. I may be rusty when it comes to hitting one shot. ... Playing my way into shape is going to take a little time.''
 
There could be some interesting ramifications.
 
Woods is closing in on Byron Nelson's record of making 113 consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour. He is at 96, and narrowly avoided the weekend off at Torrey Pines last year.
 
He also is going for a record fifth straight money title. During his rehabilitation, Ernie Els won the first two tournaments of the year in Hawaii, and Vijay Singh won in Phoenix.
 
``I'm anxious to get back out, I really am,'' Woods said. ``I'm anxious to compete. As far as them, that's great. It's going to be a challenge, because they're both doing well.''
 
When he does return, the Masters looms. Woods will be going for an unprecedented third straight title at Augusta National.
 
``It's going to be one heck of a challenge ' hopefully, one I'll be prepared for,'' he said.
 
There might not be any way to prepare for what awaits at Augusta National and protests over its all-male membership.
 
Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations and Jesse Jackson have vowed to protest outside the gates unless the club invites a woman to join. Chairman Hootie Johnson has said that won't happen any time soon.
 
Woods said he won't be distracted.
 
``I'll be fine,'' he said. ``Once it's time to play, it's time to play. Whether it's all the things outside the gates, or the fact I'm trying to win three in a row ' all that goes away once it's time to tee it up.''