Magazine article Newsweek International

The Pressure on Tiger's Knee

Magazine article Newsweek International

The Pressure on Tiger's Knee

Article excerpt

Byline: Gary Player

Just how important is Tiger Woods? Consider that in the eight months since he's been out of the game with an injury to his left knee, followed by reconstructive surgery, television ratings for big golf tournaments have reportedly dropped by about half, with similar declines in the size of the crowds that come out to watch. His return this year will restore those ratings, and his presence will force competitors to raise their game, further increasing excitement and enthusiasm for the sport.

Indeed, Tiger couldn't be back at a better time. Like all businesses, the tour is struggling economically. It relies on sponsorships from the auto and banking industries--two of the hardest-hit sectors--and lower TV ratings translate into even less interest from potential sponsors. Tiger's return provides a welcome and much-needed boost; one U.S. newspaper even referred to him as a "one-man stimulus package." The big question, though, is just how good he will be. His injury has forced him to stop practicing for what may have been the longest period since he first picked up a club. Moreover, the injury and subsequent surgery have forced him to change his swing. Yes, Tiger is a champion, but can he return to the heights he once commanded?

My answer is yes--and in fact I believe he will be much better than before. When I was 16, just a year before turning pro, I had a similar injury (although mine was probably from playing rugby), and I suffered through surgery, which forced me to modify my swing. My left knee used to snap up and stiffen at impact, a relatively common mistake and one that often leads to difficulties hitting the ball straight. Tiger had done the same thing, and, in addition to snapping his knee, he used to lift his left heel at impact--a bad habit that seemed to creep into his swing over the years and led to a fair amount of conversation on the senior tour. But now his knee will remain flexed and his heel will stay to the ground on impact, which means Tiger's staggeringly good shot will get even better. Moreover, at the age of 33, he is still very fit and strong. Despite his absence, he has maintained an intensity and a focus that I don't see in anybody else at the moment. Drive is crucial to success at the professional level, and Tiger still has reason to be hungry: with 14 major-championship wins, he is just four away from Jack Nicklaus's record.

It would be hard to beat the excitement of watching Tiger win the U.S. Open last year, playing virtually on one leg. But his return will undoubtedly bring with it a surge of enthusiasm for the game among fans and sponsors alike. …

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