The last time we saw Tiger on the course, he was pulling his best Willis Reed impersonation, grimacing and limping his way to a dramatic 19-hole Monday playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the U.S. Open. Soon afterward Woods, who had a double stress fracture in his left shin in addition to a torn ACL he suffered nearly a year earlier running at his home in Orlando, had the aforementioned surgery. Woods originally opted against the surgery and played with the ACL tear for eight months, winning nine of his last 12 starts on the PGA Tour.
Tigers win at Torrey Pines came after a two-month layoff following arthroscopic surgery on the same knee, begging the question: If Woods can win a U.S. Open championship on essentially one leg, what can he do with two healthy legs?
We may find out this week in Arizona.
Provided the range of motion in his knee is full and the stability is good, and theres no reason to think it wont be, than he should be better than ever, said Dr. David Menche, MD, Director of Metro Sports Med in New York and a consultant to GolfersMD.com. The normal ACL rehab is six months, and it has been eight months. Hes well within a reasonable time frame for a total recovery.
The ACL reconstruction should give Tiger a little peace of mind, too, according to Vijay Vad, MD, a sports medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and an advisor to GolfersMD.com. With an ACL deficient knee, theres a greater risk of developing stress fractures, which Tiger had, and of suffering a Meniscus tear. The surgery should prevent the stress fractures from recurring and may decrease his chances of developing early arthritis. He shouldnt have any pain in the knee now, provided the stress fractures are all healed and they should be, Vad said.
The surgery will also re-stabilize the knee, so theres less buckling or moving around of the knee joint. The pitfalls of the surgery for any golfer are that it can impair your overall balance, or proprioception, which is critical to making an efficient swing, and cause you to lose the golf-specific conditioning you had developed previously in the knee. For a right-handed golfer such as Woods, the left leg is used as a post, or brace, for the body to rotate around. There are tremendous forces being placed on the knee during the acceleration phase of the downswing and deceleration phase after impact. The muscles around the knee must be conditioned to handle these forces.
There are two things to watch for this week, said Vad. If we see that Tiger has lost a little distance on his tee shots, it could be that the knee is not sport-specific conditioned yet. If he struggles with his accuracy, its more likely that his balance hasnt been fully restored yet.
One thing Tiger has in his favor is that hes a superbly conditioned athlete. No golfer works harder and is more equipped to comeback from an eight-month layoff and win.
The fitter you are going into this surgery, the better you are coming out, said Vad. Its quite possible Tigers knee will be better than ever before.
Note: Tiger Woods' return can be seen live on Golf Channel Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET.