Notes: Woods peaking for U.S. Open

Tiger Woods tees off on the fourth hole during the third round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Tiger Woods tees off on the fourth hole during the third round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

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DUBLIN, Ohio – A little over a year ago, Tiger Woods was faced with the biggest decision of his career.

He had a problem, again, with his left knee.

“It was hurting me quite a bit, so I went and had it X-rayed,” Woods said Saturday after shooting a 4-under 68 to jump into contention at the Memorial Tournament. “(The doctors said), ‘Oh, yeah. You’ve got two fractures in there. Probably not a good idea to play.’ ”

Woods had surgery on April 15, 2008, to clean cartilage out of his knee. But this was different. He knew what caused the recurrence. It happened while preparing to play in the Memorial, where he had won three times. Woods decided not to enter.

“I was just practicing. My leg wasn’t quite ready to come back and take the pounding yet,” Woods said. “I had no ACL, and then I have no hamstring or (lower body) strength because I just did a surgery coming off of Augusta (in early April). So I just started to practice, and I practiced way too hard to get ready for this event. That’s when I broke it.”

His swing coach, Hank Haney, knew there was no way that Woods would elect to have the surgery immediately. No matter what, he was going to gut it out and play in the Open at Torrey Pines, almost a home course for him he’d played it (and won there) so many times.

“There just wasn’t any discussion,” Haney said at the time.

Woods went home and began preparing for the Open, as much mentally as physically since he was limited by what he could do on the knee.

“I thought that maybe I could play the U.S. Open and then rest it and then play the British and then play the PGA and just skip all the other tournaments in between and just play the major championships,” he said Saturday.

In time he came to realize that wasn’t possible.

“I was going to keep re-breaking it as it healed because I needed to practice,” Woods said. “So I was never giving it a chance to actually, truly heal. So I had to shut it down.”

A hobbled Woods, of course, caught Rocco Mediate with a dramatic birdie on the 72nd hole of the Open, then while wincing in pain he had enough to hold off Mediate in the 18-hole playoff a day later.

Just 24 hours after that memorable, dramatic, fist-pumping victory, he had the surgery. After months resting the knee and then slowly honing his game, he returned to competition in late February at the Match Play. He shot a 68 Saturday to climb within four shots of the lead at the Memorial.

So now he’s back, approaching his peak, just in time for another U.S. Open.

BACKUP STICKS: Matt Bettencourt had his clubs stolen two weeks ago in Texas. That wasn’t even the worst of it; a newlywed, he also had his wedding ring stolen.

A day before the start of the Byron Nelson, he put his clubs in his courtesy car and then had breakfast. He was away for just 20 minutes or so, but the thieves had time to break a window and grab the clubs.

TaylorMade was able to set him up with a new set of clubs and a bag. Must have been a good fit, because now he’s tied for the lead at the Memorial Tournament with Mark Wilson heading into Sunday’s final round.

“It’s actually a blessing in disguise,” he said of the new clubs.

But the clubmaker was not able to replace the ring. Luckily, Bettencourt – who was married on March 14 – has taken steps in that regard.

“I did order one and got it sent home,” he said.

MONDAY, MONDAY: Many of the pros at the Memorial Tournament aren’t grabbing the first jet out of town after Sunday’s final round. They have to stick around an extra day to walk 36 holes on two courses they barely know in an attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open in two weeks at Bethpage Black.

For Tom Lehman, the end justifies the means.

“You’d prefer to not have to be there,” he said of the qualifier at Brookside and The Lakes on Monday. “It’d be nice to be exempt, but it’s such a great tournament that you’re willing to obviously do whatever it takes to get in.”

Among those sticking around to play are Davis Love III, David Duval and Jose Maria Olazabal. Sixty-one pros are in the 121-man field, with 16 earning spots in the Open.

Should Davis Love III win the Memorial – he goes into the final round two shots back of the co-leaders – he could cancel the extra night of his hotel. With a victory he would grab one of the final berths in the Open.

“All you’ve got to do is win, so that makes it easier,” Love said, joking.

VENTING: Geoff Ogilvy was suffering after a disappointing 74 in the second round on Friday.

“I went to hit some balls,” he said. “You don’t want to go to bed with a bad taste in your mouth. I got some rhythm back in the golf swing and got a little bit of frustration out before I went home and took it out on the hotel room.”

That must have been the perfect tonic. Ogilvy came right back in the third round with a 9-under 63, a Memorial record in the third round, that left him two shots off the lead.

DIVOTS: Tiger Woods was four shots back through three rounds. He has overcome a deficit of that size only once since 2000 but it came in his only win this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he trailed Sean O’Hair by five strokes heading into the final 18 holes. ... Stewart Cink beaned a spectator on the 15th hole, two days after David Duval hit another fan who needed three stitches to close a head wound. ... Jonathan Byrd had a triple-bogey 6 at the fourth hole yet still shot a 71 to pull within a shot of the lead.

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