Tiger Woods' recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery must be going well. It seems the No. 1 player in the world, who is notorious for rising early to practice, is back on his favorite schedule.
"He called me twice this morning before 8 o'clock, and he was already out practicing," Hank Haney, Woods' swing coach, said this week during a visit to Philadelphia to address the Business Clubs of America.
Woods said Monday he was chipping and putting again. If he is already hitting full shots, even before an upcoming doctor's appointment to get the go-ahead to do just that, the knee must be feeling OK.
"I don't know if he has hit a lot, but he is definitely hitting balls," Haney said.
For Woods, who missed The Players Championship last week because of the knee, the big question is whether he can regain his red-hot form heading into next month's U.S. Open (June 12-15) at one of his favorite courses, Torrey Pines in San Diego. Knee permitting, he'd like to knock off the rust by playing two weeks earlier, at Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament.
The last time Woods had a long layoff was in 2006, when he took nine weeks off following the death of his dad, Earl. His first tournament back after that break was the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, which was the last time he missed a cut and just the third time in his professional career.
"As long as he is going to be able to prepare like he wants [for the Open], he'll be all right," Haney said. "I don't think it's necessary for him to play Memorial."
For all the talk that Woods is a shoo-in to win his third Open title because he virtually owns Torrey Pines (six Buick Invitational wins), Haney was quick to note that it is also a favorite course of the No. 2 player in the world, Phil Mickelson, who grew up in San Diego.
"The two most confident players in the world there are also the two best players in the world," Haney said.
On other players and topics, Haney noted:
On Sergio Garcia's so-called major "breakthrough" at The Players Championship: "It certainly is a confidence builder with his putter," said Haney, referring to the Achilles' heel of Garcia's game. "Winning and finishing [69th] in putting is not a repeatable formula for winning."
On Annika Sorenstam's announcement she will retire at the end of this year: "I always admire an athlete that goes out on top," he said. "The great ones like her just put so much into it that if they feel like they can't put that amount into it anymore, they'd rather not do it. I think she will stay retired. For her, it wouldn't be coming back to play more, it would be coming back to be No. 1 again. I don't see her doing it halfway."
On Lorena Ochoa, the new No. 1 in women's golf. "She overpowers the golf course," he said. "There is no reason in the world she can't stay No. 1."
On Woods' chances to win the final three majors of the year: "Tiger has won nine out of his last 12 tournaments, with two seconds and a fifth. But you never know. Look at Trevor Immelman. He has played in 11 stroke-play events this year and missed six cuts. He has a 65th, a 48th and a 40th, then he plays great and wins the Masters. He has missed his last two cuts since the Masters. To put that in perspective, Tiger has missed only three cuts in his career."
The 2009 U.S. Women's Open at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem is still more than a year away, but extensive plans are already well underway.
This past week, tournament organizers staged their second media day, largely to promote the event to potential corporate sponsors and partners and to spur ticket sales. Among other things, they are arranging pen-pal relationships between school kids and the players.
"We want this thing sold out early," said Mimi Griffith, executive director of the Open.
For a look at the planning, visit the Web site, www.2009uswomensopen.com.
Speaking of the U.S. Open, the national championship that went sponsor-free for 113 years, last week added its fourth sponsor to this year's Open at Torrey Pines.
The U.S. Golf Association announced that the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has joined American Express, IBM and Lexus in signing on over the past 18 months.