The Players Championship won't have the best player next month at the TPC Sawgrass.
Tiger Woods, the world's No. 1-ranked touring professional, winner of 13 major championships and the 2001 Players, announced on his Web site Tuesday afternoon that he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee earlier in the day in Park City, Utah, and will miss four to six weeks in recovery and rehabilitation.
Woods, who finished second in the Masters on Sunday for the second year in a row, has had surgery on the same knee twice before, in 1994 to remove a benign tumor and in 2002 for an injury. The surgery was performed by Thomas D. Rosenberg of the HealthSouth Surgery Center.
"I made the decision to deal with the pain and schedule the surgery for after the Masters," said Woods in a statement on his Web site, tigerwoods.com. "The upside is that I have been through this process before and know how to handle it. I look forward to working through the rehabilitation process and getting back to action as quickly as I can."
Given the rehab schedule, Woods would not be able to return to the PGA Tour until the the week after The Players, at the earliest. Given his usual playing schedule, Woods would miss only one other event, the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte, N.C., the week before The Players.
Woods likely will return to action at the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio, May 29-June 1, an event hosted by his boyhood idol Jack Nicklaus. His next start would be the U.S. Open June 12-15 at the Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, Calif., where Woods has won the PGA Tour event there six times.
Woods' agent, Marc Steinberg, said on the Web site that Woods had cartilage damage in his knee, and he been experiencing pain since the middle of the 2007 season. Despite that, Woods played his best in the summer and fall, winning the PGA Championship, the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational, then two PGA Tour Playoff events and eventually, the inaugural FedEx Cup.
Woods won his first three tournaments this year to run his winning streak to five. It ended at the World Golf Championship CA Championship at Doral, when he finished fifth.
Woods still has a wide lead this year on the Tour's FedEx Cup points list and the money list.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem admitted in a statement that the timing of Woods' surgery, causing him to miss the Tour's signature event, was not an ideal situation.
"Of course we're disappointed when Tiger is unable to compete in a PGA Tour event," Finchem said in the statement. "He's the No. 1 player in the world and a fan favorite wherever he goes. There is really never a good time for an athlete - especially one of Tiger's caliber - to take weeks off from competition during the season. But his health concerns will have to come first. We wish him the best toward a speedy recovery and look forward to welcoming him back to the Tour when he is ready and able to compete."
Not having Woods in The Players field naturally raises the question of whether it will affect attendance and TV ratings. The allotment of tickets has sold out each year since 1988, and executive tournament director Ron Cross said sales this year were trending toward a sellout a week before the tournament.
However, Cross said he believes the allotment of 40,000 tickets would sell out, and pointed out The Players field will include defending champion Phil Mickelson, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, and other stars such as Ponte Vedra Beach residents Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and Fred Funk, and Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and Masters champion Trevor Immelman.
"We're disapppointed Tiger won't be playing but fans will still have an opportunity to see the deepest field in golf on a great course," Cross said. "We don't think Tiger's absence will affect the number of tickets we are on track to sell. Fans know they will still see great golf at The Players. We wish Tiger all the best in his rehab and hope he will be back on the PGA Tour as soon as possible."
The last time The Players missed a high-ranking professional was in 2004, when Furyk had a wrist injury. The year before, Mickelson missed the tournament because of the difficulty his wife had in giving birth to their third child.
Woods has competed in all 11 Players Championships for which he has been eligible since he turned professional in late 1996. He has never missed the cut, and defeated Singh by one shot in 2001. The year before, Woods lost to Hal Sutton by one shot.
Woods has struggled in recent years in the tournament, with the shorter, tighter TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course lessening the impact of his power game off the tee. Since his victory, Woods has finished no higher than a tie for 11th in 2003, and in the last three years, has tied for 53rd in 2005, for 22nd in 2006 and for 37th in 2007.
Woods has shot in the 60s in only two rounds in the last three Players and hasn't broken par for four rounds since he tied for 16th at 3-under 285 in 2004.