Tiger’s out of sight, but never out of mind at U.S. Open

What do you think Tiger Woods was doing Thursday? Possibly watching the U.S. Open as many others were, knowing he should have been playing, and would have been playing, were it not for that knee injury?

Was he sprawled on the couch, grabbing a potato chip or a Gatorade when he might have been grabbing a wedge?

Or was he a avoiding the telecast from Congressional Country Club in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., trying to escape another reminder of his situation?

This 2011 Open is the first he hasn’t entered since turning pro in 1996, and for someone as competitive, and over the years, as successful as Tiger — he has won 14 majors, after all — there must be deep frustration.

The best guess is Woods — a sports junkie, a golf junkie — was dialed in, tuned in, studying the play of Y.E. Yang, who stunningly beat Tiger head-to-head in the 2009 PGA Championship, or shaking his head in disbelief as Phil Mickelson double-bogeyed his first hole of the round, the par-3 10th.

This is hurting Tiger, not being here, not being in the hunt, and maybe even not confronting the journalists he says are always prying. This is hurting golf, as Yang more than implied.

“You know what, half of my heart is disappointed,” said Yang, a Korean, through an interpreter when asked about Tiger’s absence. “The other half is probably — I wouldn’t say thrilled, but I know that my chance is a little bit better because Tiger is not in the field. But at the same time, it’s a loss for golf, really, I think, and Tiger just adds another dimension and adds a little bit more quality to any tournament where he participates.

“So as a fellow golfer and a fellow PGA Tour member, I really hope that he comes back quite soon because it’s just a little bit different when he’s not here.”

Three weeks to the day before the first shot was hit on a morning of light rain, Woods made an appearance in Philadelphia to help promote the AT&T National, a tournament which benefits his academy.

“All my docs say I should be ready to go by then,” Woods said of his chances for the Open. But he also conceded that there was “absolutely” a situation in which he would have to skip America’s golfing championship, and as we know, that’s what he was forced to do.

Woods hurt himself, again, at the Masters in April then pulled out of The Players Championship in May. He has been wearing a “boot” on the left foot to protect his sore Achilles. The knee, on which four surgeries have been performed, is no less a problem.

The talk in the media room not only was about Tiger at the moment, but Tiger in the future. Does he recover completely? Does his golf game recover completely? Skills need to be polished. The longer he stays away, the longer he will need to regain his touch.

The year’s next major is the British Open in July. Will he be able to play? Or, like this U.S. Open, will we be again wondering whether Tiger is watching or not watching?

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

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