JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Tiger Woods pulled out of the U.S. Open on Tuesday because of lingering issues with his left leg, leaving him uncertain how soon he can resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record for major titles.
It will be the first time Woods has missed the U.S. Open since 1994, when he had just graduated high school.
“I am extremely disappointed that I won’t be playing in the U.S. Open, but it’s time for me to listen to my doctors and focus on the future,” Woods said on his website. “I was hopeful that I could play, but if I did, I risk further damage to my left leg. My knee and Achilles’ tendon are not fully healed.”
Woods said he hoped to be ready for the AT&T National, which starts June 30 at Aronomink, and the next two majors. Then again, he said two weeks ago he would do everything possible to be ready for the U.S. Open, which is far more significant.
“We’re very disappointed that he won’t be playing in the National Open,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said, whom Woods called Tuesday morning. “He certainly brings excitement to the event. He’ll be missed, but the U.S. Open will go on. The event is bigger than one player, but he certainly will be missed.”
The U.S. Open starts June 16 at Congressional, where Woods won the AT&T National two years ago and tied for 19th when the U.S. Open was last played there in 1997.
Woods was replaced by Michael Whitehead, a senior at Rice who was first alternate from the Dallas qualifier. Whitehead had to win a playoff just to get out of the first stage of 18-hole qualifying, and was stunned to get the news.
“They said on the phone that Tiger has withdrawn from the Open,” Whitehead said. “So, ‘Thanks, Tiger.’ I guess I’m glad he was listening to his doctors.”
The future of Woods, meanwhile, is as muddied as ever.
“The hardest thing in the world as a golfer, or any athlete, is to stay out,” two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange said. “It’s smart what he’s doing. Unfortunately, the U.S. Open falls in that time frame. But every time something happens, and the longer he’s away from the game, it’s going to make it tougher for him to come back.
“It’s going to be harder and harder the longer this goes.”
Woods hasn’t won since the 2009 Australian Masters, a stretch of 22 tournaments. He not only lost his No. 1 ranking late last year, he has plunged to No. 15 in the world, his lowest spot in the ranking since the spring of 1997.
Woods announced his decision on Twitter: “Not playing in US Open. Very disappointed. Short-term frustration for long-term gain.”
He had said in his most recent press conference that his injury was “not the doomsday that some of the press members are writing about.” Some in his camp believe if he had skipped The Players Championship, his left leg would have been fully healed perhaps in time for the Memorial, which he missed last week.
Only Woods knows what kind of shape his leg is in, although he said another surgery has never been brought up by his doctors.
The Masters is now the only major Woods has played every year since turning pro. He was recovering from knee surgery in 2008 and did not play the British Open and PGA Championship.
“It’s been a frustrating and difficult year, but I’m committed to my longterm health,” Woods said. “I want to thank the fans for their encouragement and support. I am truly grateful and will be back playing when I can.”
The question is when will he return.
Woods is recovering from injuries to his left knee ligaments and left Achilles’, and his Achilles’ is believed to be giving him more trouble.
“My man is hurting,” Arjun Atwal, a close friend and frequent practice partner, said last week at the Memorial. “He’s in a boot, he’s on crutches. Not doing good.”
The most recent of four surgeries on Woods’ left knee came a week after the 2008 U.S. Open, which Woods won in a playoff for his 14th major. He had reconstructive surgery and was out for eight months, then returned and won seven times the following year before his personal life imploded on Thanksgiving night in 2009.
Woods was tied for the lead at the turn in the final round of the Masters this year and wound up in a tie for fourth. But he said he hurt his knee and Achilles’ hitting from an awkward stance in the pine straw on the 17th hole of the third round at Augusta National, and he was limping toward the finish on Sunday. He described it as a “minor injury” in April.
Woods sat out the Wells Fargo Championship, then tried to play in The Players Championship, only to withdraw at 6-over par after nine holes because of what he called a chain reaction of pain in his knee, Achilles’ and eventually his calf.
He later said he tried to come back too early.
“My gut feeling is I think it’s a good thing for Tiger,” said Mark O’Meara, who no longer spends as much time around Woods. “You’re throwing yourself back in the fray at a major when you haven’t really played besides Augusta — you can’t count The Players. To be prepared to do that, you’ve got to have some reps, and not reps at home.
“He drives the needle and he always will,” O’Meara said. “I’d rather see him come back when he’s ready. And if he’s not prepared, that he shouldn’t come back.”
The first time Woods missed a cut in the major was the 2006 U.S. Open, his first tournament in two months as he coped with the death of his father.
The U.S. Open will be the 12th straight major without Woods winning, the longest drought of his career. He remains four majors short of the 18 professional majors that Nicklaus won, the ultimate benchmark in golf.
“I still have plenty of time, and I feel that going forward, I’m excited about playing major championships and playing golf again,” Woods said two weeks ago while promoting the AT&T National. “I just want to be healthy and solid, and I feel like I can give it a go.”