Tiger Woods walked tenderly out of Torrey Pines with a U.S. Open trophy he was destined to win on a left leg worse than anyone imagined. A group of children called out to him, and Woods looked over and waved.
It turned out to be a most symbolic gesture.
So long, Tiger.
See you next year.
Woods revealed yesterday he has been playing for at least 10 months with a torn ligament in his left knee and that he suffered a double stress fracture in his left leg two weeks before the U.S. Open. He said he will have season-ending surgery, knocking him out of the final two majors and the Ryder Cup.
"Now, it is clear that the right thing to do is to listen to my doctors, follow through with this surgery, and focus my attention on rehabilitating my knee," Woods said on his Web site.
He sure wasn't listening to doctors by playing the U.S. Open, a victory that now looks even more impressive.
Out of competition for two months because of April 15 surgery to clean out cartilage in his left knee, he suffered a double stress fracture in his left tibia two weeks before the U.S. Open.
Hank Haney, his swing coach, was with him in Florida when doctors told Woods the preferred treatment was three weeks on crutches, followed by three weeks of rest.
According to Haney, Woods looked at the doctor and said: "I'm playing the U.S. Open, and I'm going to win."
"And then he started putting on his shoes," Haney recalled. "He looked at me and said, 'Come on, Hank. We'll just putt today.' Every night, I kept thinking there was no chance he's going to play. He had to stop in his tracks for 30 seconds walking from the dining room table to the refrigerator.
"He was not going to miss the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. There just wasn't any discussion."
And it was a U.S. Open that will be talked about for years.
Despite a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a double stress fracture, Woods managed to win a major that required five days of flinching, grimacing, and a long list of spectacular shots that have defined his career.
He went 91 holes on a leg that got worse each day, finally defeating Rocco Mediate on the 19th hole of a playoff.
"When I talk about golf, he doesn't count," Mediate said Monday after the playoff. "He's not normal."
Woods, 32, did not say when he would have surgery, but he canceled a clinic that was scheduled for Tuesday at Comerica Park in Detroit. Haney said the typical recovery is six to eight months. This will be Woods' third surgery in five years on his left knee.
"There will be debate whether he rushed back for the U.S. Open," said Mark Steinberg, his agent at IMG. "But I don't think there will be any debate that he rushes back from his next surgery. He won't need to. Augusta is in April. And if things go according to plan, he'll be able to play an event or two or three."
Woods first went to Haney toward the end of 2002 to overhaul a violent swing that was putting enormous pressure on his left knee. Haney suspects the pain has been increasing, and Woods stopped hitting balls after his rounds at last year's British Open.
"He's been playing way less than 100 percent for a long, long time," Haney said.
Woods was already plenty good, with 65 victories that rank third all-time on the PGA Tour and 14 professional majors that are second only to the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus.
Even in his abbreviated 2008 season, he won five of seven tournaments worldwide. Dating to the discovery of the torn ACL, Woods won nine of 12 tournaments, including two majors, and never finished lower than fifth.
"While I am obviously disappointed to have to miss the remainder of the season, I have to do the right thing for my long-term health and look forward to returning to competitive golf when my doctors agree that my knee is sufficiently healthy," Woods said. "My doctors assure me with the proper rehabilitation and training, the knee will be strong and there will be no long-term effects."
Woods will miss a major for the first time in his career - the British Open next month at Royal Birkdale and the PGA Championship, where Woods is the two-time defending champion, in August at Oakland Hills in Michigan.
Woods also will miss the Ryder Cup in September, meaning the ninth player in the U.S. standings will qualify for the team.
Woods is private about his health and personal life, never more so than at the just-completed U.S. Open. He didn't say anything about the torn ACL or the stress fractures and wouldn't say how he was treating it, only that it was more sore as the week went on.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was when the injury first happened.
Woods said he tore the ACL while jogging at home after the British Open last July. He played on, going on a streak that included seven consecutive victories, including Dubai Desert Classic in Europe and his Target World Challenge, an unofficial event.
He bypassed surgery on the torn ligament April 15, hopeful that by cleaning out the cartilage he could make it through the year. What he didn't anticipate were the stress fractures as he tried to get ready for the Memorial.
Woods won for the eighth time at the public golf course in San Diego - a U.S. Open, a record six times at the Buick Invitational, and a Junior World Championship as a teenager.
He called his U.S. Open victory "probably the best ever."
Yesterday, he explained why.