Wounded knee will be source of speculation

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SAN DIEGO --- Paul Azinger answered his phone during the final round of a U.S. Open that attracted a prime-time audience, the Ryder Cup captain among those camped in front of the TV.

"I'm watching my show pony," he said, referring to longtime friend Rocco Mediate.

Asked what he thought about his Secretariat, there was a slight pause.

"I'm a little worried for him," Azinger said while watching Tiger Woods flinch, grimace, limp and hit a career's worth of clutch shots at Torrey Pines. "Not for the Ryder Cup. I just hope he's not doing anything to create a long-term issue for himself. That's my concern."

Woods seems to have everyone worried.

The countdown toward Jack Nicklaus' benchmark of 18 professional majors began in earnest three years ago when Woods won the Masters Tournament in a playoff and reached the halfway point with his ninth Grand Slam title.

But when he picked up No. 14 with a playoff victory Monday at the U.S. Open, looking into his future was like summer in San Diego. It can be so foggy you can't see the Pacific from the bluffs, or clear enough to see across the ocean to La Jolla Cove.

"I think I need to shut it down for a little bit," Woods said. "I pushed it pretty hard this week, and I just want to enjoy it. And we're going to reevaluate after this event and see what happens."

What does that mean? How bad is his knee? How severe was the pain?

Only Woods knows, and he's more tightlipped with an injury report than Bill Belichick.

The Buick Open next week is most certainly out, and probably his own AT&T National at Congressional the week after. Even the British Open at Royal Birkdale, where Woods missed a playoff by one shot in 1998, is up in the air.

Woods is expected to elaborate on his immediate future later this week.

In the meantime, this surely will be a summer of speculation.

Perhaps it was only fitting that Woods cradled his daughter in his arms before handing Sam Alexis, who turns 1 today, over to his wife. As he was piling up majors at a staggering rate, conventional wisdom said that only three things could keep Woods from breaking Nicklaus' major record -- marriage, children or injury.

He handled the first two just fine. But he has had three surgeries on his left knee, two in the past five years.

"We've got to get this fixed," one member of his camp said quietly.

Woods, who's played just seven times through the U.S. Open, loves the competition of the Ryder Cup matches, but loathes everything else about that week. He might have a convenient excuse to sit this Ryder Cup out. Imagine the no-win situation Europe would face playing an American team without the world's best player.

Who knows? Woods might end up doing his team a favor.

And himself.


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