Woods, 35, hasn’t played since withdrawing from May’s Players Championship as he recovers from knee and ankle injuries. He is missing his second consecutive major tournament at this week’s British Open and has said he won’t return until he’s 100 percent.
Watson, 61, came back from hip-replacement surgery to finish second at the 2009 British Open at Turnberry in Scotland, missing a putt that would have won a record-tying sixth title before losing to Stewart Cink in a playoff. Knee-replacement surgery for Woods, if he ever needs it, would be tougher to get over, he said.
“With a hip, you put a new one in and here we go,” Watson told reporters at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England, where golf’s oldest major begins in two days. “The knee takes a lot more stress. It’s out there on its lonesome and rotates.
“Whether he is going to have a total knee replacement, who knows, but that may be a more difficult thing to come back from if he does.”
Woods has had four operations on his left knee, most notably in 2008, when he underwent reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament after winning the most recent of his 14 major titles at the U.S. Open.
“The most important thing is for him to get well so he can put the force on it that he has to for his swing,” said Watson, speaking to reporters in his role as an ambassador for MasterCard Inc. “Can it be put back in shape is the question, that’s the concern. Whether it’s going to prevent him from dominating the game again, who knows?”
Woods hasn’t won a tournament since November 2009, two weeks before he was involved in a one-car crash outside his Florida home that led to revelations of his marital infidelity and eventual divorce. He’s fallen to No. 19 in the Official World Golf Ranking after holding the top spot for a record 281 weeks.
“America has great players,” Watson said. “A vacuum has been left by Woods getting hurt and having personal problems.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Bensch in Sandwich, England, through the London sports desk at firstname.lastname@example.org.