Saturday 21 September 2019

Woods eyes Japan return in October following fifth operation on left knee

Tiger Woods has been plagued by back and knee injuries. AP Photo/Eric Gay
Tiger Woods has been plagued by back and knee injuries. AP Photo/Eric Gay

Brian Keogh

Tiger Woods underwent knee surgery last week but insists he will be fit to take on Rory McIlroy in Japan's first PGA Tour event in eight weeks.

The 15-time Major winner announced via Twitter yesterday that he had an arthroscopic procedure to repair minor cartilage damage in his left knee. In a statement, Woods' surgeon Dr Verne Cooley said: "I expect Tiger to make a full recovery. We did what was needed, and also examined the entire knee. There were no additional problems."

It's the fifth time that Woods (43) has had an operation on his left knee and he's confident he can tee it up alongside FedEx Cup winner McIlroy in The ZOZO Championship in Chiba from October 24-27.

"I'm walking now and hope to resume practice in the next few weeks," Woods said. "I look forward to travelling and playing in Japan in October."

Oblique

The Masters champion has been plagued by back and knee injuries throughout his career and withdrew before the second round of the Northern Trust in New Jersey earlier this month citing a mild oblique strain.

It was his first failure to finish an event since his triumphant 2018 return following last-resort spinal fusion surgery.

"If it's not one thing, it's another," Woods said of his fragile health before the BMW Championship at Medinah. "Things just pop up. That's been one of the biggest challenges coming back from last year."

He has performed well below par since claiming his 15th Major win at Augusta in April, admitting he was worn out. Since the Masters, he has played just 17 rounds and broken 70 just three times en route to missed cuts at the PGA and The Open.

He also failed to qualify for the Tour Championship, where he was the title holder.

McIlroy is happy just to see Woods still competing but he has other fish to fry before they meet again.

"He doesn't need to prove anything to anyone," McIlroy said at the Northern Trust. "He doesn't need to prove anything else to himself. He can put the clubs away tomorrow and live happily ever after, I guess.

"But he wants to compete. He's a competitor. I think it shows a lot that he still turns up to some events and wants to play."

As Woods rests, McIlroy has set his sights on replacing Brooks Koepka as world No 1 before the end of the year.

And if he pulls it off, he could be a threat to Open champion Shane Lowry's quest for the Race to Dubai title.

Lowry leads the Race to Dubai by 516 points from Austria's Bernd Wiesberger with Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion Jon Rahm third and Tommy Fleetwood fourth.

After winning the FedEx Cup to take his season's earnings beyond $24 million, McIlroy is playing the €2.5 million Omega European Masters in Crans this week as part of his sponsorship deal with the watchmakers.

But while he's 46th in the Race to Dubai, a distant 2,512 points behind Lowry, there are 585 Race to Dubai points (and €416,660) for the winner at Crans-sur-Sierre, where he is joined by Pádraig Harrington, Paul Dunne and Gavin Moynihan.

The big money events are yet to come and the Holywood star will have his sights set on the $7 million BMW PGA at Wentworth and the $5 million Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

Stretch

After his trip to Japan for the PGA Tour event with Woods, he will then play the $10.25m (€9.25m) WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai and should qualify for the season-ending $8 million DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.

The Co Down man won the Race to Dubai in 2012, 2014 and 2015 but 2017 winner Fleetwood, who was second to Lowry in The Open, has not given up.

"With the opportunities coming up, if you're in the hunt until the end you've got a realistic chance in the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said in Crans. "It's nice to have this stretch coming up, where with some good golf I could be in there again."

On the PGA Europro Tour, five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey is one of 33 Irish golfers in action today in the first round of the 54-hole Prem Group Irish Masters at Tulfarris.

The GUI's Interprovincial Championship tees off at Tullamore where champions Munster face Connacht and Ulster meet Leinster as the Irish selectors prepare to finalise the side for next month's men's Home Internationals at Lahinch.

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