BETHESDA, Md. Tiger Woods does not know when he can play golf again, but he said Monday his rebuilt left knee has been sore his entire PGA Tour career and he looks forward to playing on two good legs.
"My left knee has been sore for 10 to 12 years," Woods said during a conference call for his AT&T National tournament, his first public comments since reconstructive surgery last Tuesday. "It will be nice to finally have a healthy leg. The doctors have assured me that my long-term health will be a ... lot better than it's been over the last decade. I'm really looking forward to that."
Woods said doctors in Utah used a tendon from his right hamstring to rebuild the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, which he said had always been weak and finally snapped while jogging on a golf course last July.
He is in a brace and will be on crutches for three weeks to keep weight off his knee.
Woods said he most likely would not be able to attend the AT&T National, which starts Thursday at Congressional, because there was swelling on the flight home to Florida, and doctors have advised him to avoid planes.
"But who knows?" he added. "I don't really listen to doctors all that well, anyway."
Woods apparently wasn't listening in May when X-rays revealed a double stress fracture in his left tibia as he was getting back in shape from arthroscopic surgery to clean out cartilage in his troublesome left knee after the Masters.
In a story told by swing coach Hank Haney, doctors said the best treatment was for Woods to spend three weeks on crutches, followed by three weeks of rest. Haney said Woods looked at the doctor and said, "I'm playing the U.S. Open, and I'm going to win."
Woods said he knew the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines would be his last tournament of the year no matter what happened.
"I really didn't practice a whole lot going into the Open, and I couldn't play more than nine holes in preparation for it," he said. "After dealing with that, I decided to make the U.S. Open my last event for the season, no matter how it turned out. Whether I missed the cut or if I ended up winning the tournament, it was going to be my last event."
He won in spectacular fashion, making a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate, then winning on the 19th hole of a playoff. That gave Woods his 14th career major, and five victories in seven starts worldwide this year.
Woods said he had to use crutches for three weeks, followed by gradually putting weight on his knee, then flexing it.
"As far as long term, I really don't know," he said in a conference call that lasted just over 20 minutes. "We have to see how this thing heals. Everyone heals at a different rate. Some people are back to playing sports in six months, some are nine, some are 12. So to be honest with you, no one really knows until we start the rehab process."
Woods will miss his first major since turning pro at the British Open at Royal Birkdale, where he finished one shot out of a playoff in 1998. He also will miss the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, and the Ryder Cup.
"I just had some good feelings going into those two major championships, to a venue that I liked," he said. "And not to be able to go, it is frustrating."
He said he did not consider going to the Ryder Cup in any capacity but a player. Woods mathematically clinched a spot on the U.S. team with his victory at Torrey Pines, so the top nine players in the standings through the PGA Championship will be the eight qualifiers.
"I'm not part of the team, unfortunately," he said. "It's about those 12 guys. It's not about me. I'm not part of that crew."
Woods first had surgery on his left knee while at Stanford in 1994 to remove a benign tumor. He had surgery after the 2002 season to drain fluid and remove cysts around his ACL.
"When I had my cyst removed from my ACL, there wasn't a whole lot left," he said. "So they said, 'Basically, you need to train and develop your hamstring and glute and calf as much as you possibly can to hold it.' Everyone was surprised it lasted as long as it did before I ruptured it. It was just running on the golf course. Just happened to take one little step it didn't really take much and it just popped."
That was after the British Open last year, and Woods still won four of his final five tournaments, tying for second in the other.
He never considered ACL surgery last fall, when he played only one time in a four-month period. Instead, he tried to build up strength during his layoff to give his leg more stability. And it held up fine just not long enough.
"The natural rotation of the golf swing without the ACL made it a little bit unstable, and it caused some cartilage damage because of that," he said. "I had that rectified after the Masters. When they went in there, they discovered some more cartilage damage that they'd have to fix in conjunction with the ACL reconstruction, and it was going to be kind of a double dip there.
"That surgery I had after the Masters was to get me through the rest of the '08 season," he said. "But, as you know, I developed stress fractures and decided it to bag it for the year."