Tiger Woods refuses to worry about his knee in the Open rough. Tiger Woods' knees not knocking: Diabolical U.S. Open rough not phasing world's No. 1

The state of Tiger Woods' knee remains in question, but the man stalking Jack Nicklaus swears the United States Golf Association's specially groomed kikuyu grass rough will not scare the most talked about joint in sports.

The kikuyu grass rough grown thick at Torrey Pines - which many observers swear even U.S. Open veterans have to see to believe - is assumed to be one of the biggest dangers to Woods' thrice-surgically-repaired left knee. Everyone remembers Phil Mickelson whining about the rough at Oakmont during the last U.S. Open, blaming it for injuring his wrist and infamously branding it, "the USGA's wet dream." And Torrey's kikuyu grass is supposed to be even more diabolical.

Don't expect to hear Tiger going on a kikuyu rant, though. He downright dismissed the rough as a possible physical burden.

"As far as the rough, it actually puts less torque on the knee," Woods said. "There's really no twisting in the rough. It blunts all the force out. You just knock it back out onto the fairway."

Woods was talking on a conference call yesterday to promote the PGA Championship, set for the Detroit area's storied Oakland Hills in August. As the defending PGA Champion, Woods had something of an obligation to attend the last major's media day (via satellite).

It's doubtful he would have spoken with reporters otherwise until after he arrived at Torrey Pines - and saw the full-grown kikuyu for himself.

Woods is clearly curious to see the full throttle USGA setup on a course that's long been one of his personal hardware collectors. He's won six pro golf tournaments at Torrey Pines, including the last four tournaments held there. But that wasn't the 2008 USGA Torrey Pines South, one that has Tiger wondering how the changes on the right-side bunkers on No. 14 are going to affect his strategy.

And that's just one example the world's No. 1 player brought up.

Woods is also already thinking about the speed of the greens. "We've had them hard (at Torrey) before, but we haven't played them this fast," he said. "We'll see how firm they are to get the speed of a U.S. Open."

Torrey Pines South will stretch nearly 7,600 yards for next week's Open, but Tiger sounds like he expects to play plenty of target golf.

He's also not completely buying into the notion - at least publicly - that having the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines gives him a huge advantage.

"I remember going into Tulsa (for last year's PGA Championship), people didn't think the course fit me," Woods said, having won that tournament for major No. 13. "It's all about playing well. If you're playing well, you're going to be in contention."

If you're Tiger and you're playing well, you're the favorite - two month layoff or not.

"It's to the point now where the other players respect Tiger so much that they're not surprised by anything he does," said Haymes Snedeker, older brother of Masters breakout Brandt Snedeker. "Truly."

Of course, everyone's wondering how Tiger is going to play after the knee surgery that's kept him from competing since the Masters in early April. It wasn't that long ago that Woods talked confidently of playing in the Memorial as an Open tune-up. Now, he's admitting he has not even played a full round of golf yet.

The first round of the U.S. Open is nine days away now, but Woods argues that's enough time.

"I'll be playing a lot more than just 18 holes soon," he said.

While there's been plenty of speculation and debate over the timing of the surgery - right after finishing second at the Masters - Woods says that he and his team thought that an off-season spent training and trying to strengthen the knee would give him a chance to avoid going under the knife.

Now Woods is approaching 33 with 13 majors and three knee surgeries on his resume. Tiger admits he's not so young in terms of golf played.

"I've been on it for so long," Woods said. "People don't realize it, but I've been playing golf for basically ... geez, 30 years now."

This time in the game - the trophies won and the dominance gained - gives Tiger a different perspective on things like Annika Sorenstam's retirement announcement than most.

"As far as Annika's retirement, I'm very happy for her," he said. "It's something she'd been talking about for a little while. For guys and girls, it's two totally different things. It really is. She wants to start a family and you really have to ...

"Annika's the type of personality that doesn't do anything half ass. She has to do it full out. When we talked about it, she was very happy and I could hear it in her voice. She was very content with her decision."

Don't expect Tiger Woods to make the same type of announcement anytime soon though - 11-month-old daughter Sam at home and knee troubles regardless.

"I'm in the prime of my career right now," he said. "I just have to keep working."

June 3, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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