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 had imagined. A group of children called out, and Woods looked over and waved.
It turned out to be a most symbolic gesture.
So long, Tiger.
See you next year.
Woods revealed Wednesday that 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 golf's final two majors and the Ryder Cup, a team matchup involving the United States vs. Europe.
"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 his doctors by playing in the Open in San Diego, a victory that now looks even more impressive.
Out of competition for almost 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 Open. The fractures were attributed to his intense rehab and preparations for the Open.
Dr. Ronald Grelsamer, an orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City who specializes in knee and hip disorders, said it may be a while before Woods, 32, returns.
"I'm speculating, but these conditions can range from mild to serious,'' Grelsamer said. "I'm guessing it's not very mild because the (previous) arthroscopes haven't worked. At the very least, it's moderate. Most operations for that are going to require a year off, minimum.''
Grelsamer said Woods probably didn't do any further damage by playing in the Open.
Before the Open, Hank Haney, Woods' 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 it was an Open that will be talked about for years.
Despite a torn anterior cruciate ligament and the double stress fracture, Woods won a major that required five days of flinching, grimacing and the kind of spectacular shots that define his career.
He went 91 holes on a leg that got worse each day, finally defeating Rocco Mediate on Monday on the 19th hole of a playoff.
"When I talk about golf, he doesn't count," Mediate said after the playoff. "He's not normal."
Woods first went to Haney toward the end of 2002 to overhaul a violent swing that was putting enormous pressure on his left knee.
"He's been playing way less than 100 percent for a long, long, time," Haney said.
Woods' 65 victories rank third all time on the PGA Tour, and his 14 major championships are second only to the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus. This is the 500th week Woods has been ranked No. 1 in the world.
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, including two majors, and never finished lower than fifth.
"My doctors assure me with the proper rehabilitation and training, the knee will be strong and there will be no long-term effects," said Woods, who will be having his third surgery in five years on his left knee.
He will miss a major for the first time in his career: the British Open next month. He'll also miss the Ryder Cup in September, so the ninth player in the U.S. standings will qualify for the team.
Woods didn't say anything at the U.S. Open about the torn ACL or the stress fractures and wouldn't say how he was treating the problem, only that it was more sore as the week went on.
Woods acknowledged Wednesday that he tore the ACL while jogging at home after the British Open in July. He played on, going on a streak that included seven consecutive victories.
He said the cartilage damage developed from the ACL injury. 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.
Still, he said, he is determined "to do everything and anything … to play in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, which is a course that is close to where I grew up and holds many special memories."
He called his Open victory "probably the best ever."
Times staff writer Rodney Page contributed to this report.