Trying to catch Padraig Harrington in the final round, Woods hit a drive into the shaggy grass on a hill left of the ninth fairway.
Woods winced when he tried to slash the ball out of the rough from an awkward lie. His knee buckled, and he limped toward the green.
'From then on, I knew something had to be done,' Woods recalled.
His left knee had been aching most of the year, even though Woods had won five times, including the Masters and U.S. Open.
Five days after the '02 Target World Challenge, he had arthroscopic surgery.
'At the end of last year, it was tough just to be out there to play golf. It was tough just getting up and out of bed,' Woods said Tuesday. 'The knee was very swollen and sore, and a lot of bad habits crept into my swing because I had to make alterations to alleviate some of the pain and discomfort.'
Woods missed the first five weeks of the 2003 season, but he recovered just fine.
'I forgot he missed all that time at the start of the year,' Kenny Perry said. 'Amazing.'
It was amazing because Woods won his first tournament back by four shots, then won a World Golf Championship two weeks later, a dominant performance over five days in the Match Play Championship.
Woods finished the year without a major or the most money. Still, he won five times, had the second-lowest scoring average in PGA Tour history and won his fifth straight player of the year award.
'If I could have won one tournament at the beginning of the year, I would have taken it,' Woods said. 'The physical hurdle was easy to overcome, but I think the mental hurdle was the most difficult because I would still flinch and give it my old golf swing that I had to play with all of last year to try to get by.
That was the toughest thing.'
He is healthy and happy, coming off the close player of the year vote that went his way Monday, and a marriage proposal that also went his way two weeks ago.
Asked if he had registered anywhere for wedding gifts, Woods, who brings in at least $65 million a year in earnings and endorsements, said he won't do that until he and fiancee Elin Nordegren set a date.
Meantime, he is still the tournament host of the Target World Challenge. Net proceeds go to his Tiger Woods Learning Center, and Woods always donates whatever he makes to his foundation.
Harrington is the defending champion. The Irishman nearly squandered a six-shot lead to Woods, but held on for a two-shot victory when Woods made bogey on the final hole.
Woods has assembled another world-class field of 16 players, including all four major championship winners, some of them pouring in from all over the world.
Harrington arrived Tuesday from China after winning the Hong Kong Open. Robert Allenby came to Sherwood Country Club after winning the Australian Masters (he goes back next week for the Australian Open).
Vijay Singh traveled from South Africa (Nedbank Challenge) to Florida (Father-Son), and now has a chance to win Woods' tournament after losing to Woods in the player of the year vote.
Two of the major winners -- British Open champion Ben Curtis and PGA champion Shaun Micheel -- were not high enough in the world rankings to qualify but received sponsor exemptions.
The others went to Jay Haas, who turned 50 last week, and Fred Couples, the recent winner of the Skins Game and undisputed 'King of the Silly Season.'