SAN FRANCISCO -- Sportswriters in San Francisco, site of this year's U.S. Open, have adopted a new mantra. Call it provincial, but get used to a Pavlovian response any time something notable happens in golf the next few months: How does it affect the Open?
Steve Stricker wins the season-opening tournament in Maui -- hey, his game fits the Olympic Club. Rory McIlroy rises to No. 1 in the world -- maybe he'll become the first player to win consecutive Opens since Curtis Strange in 1988-89.
And now Tiger Woods hobbles off the course at Doral -- how will this impact his chances in San Francisco in June?
Woods' withdrawal Sunday at the Cadillac Championship outside Miami serves as another reminder of what really matters to Sir Eldrick. And it's not the Cadillac Championship.
As far back as April 1997, when Woods first won the Masters, it was clear he cared mostly about the majors. Now -- at 36, with a surgically repaired left knee (four times over), a troublesome Achilles tendon and a rapidly shrinking window in which to catch Jack Nicklaus -- he cares only about the majors.
Sunday's injury was diagnosed as a strained Achilles, according to Woods. He withdrew because he didn't want to jeopardize his health in advance of this year's Masters, which begins in two weeks. Smart move.
Woods seldom acknowledges his sporting mortality, but golfers seldom thrive after serious knee injuries and they seldom win majors in their 40s. Realistically, he has about five years to break Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories.
Woods, with 14, would need to win one every year through 2016. That's an iffy proposition, especially on a wobbly leg.
He still hopes to play at Bay Hill, which begins Monday, but he also figures to bow out if there's any uncertainty about his Achilles. That could mean three consecutive weeks without a tournament. Even if he drives down Magnolia Lane with two sturdy legs, he might not bring along his "A game."
Woods still could contend at Augusta National, given his familiarity with the course and its wide, forgiving fairways. But let's say he scales back his schedule in April and May to protect his Achilles and arrives in San Francisco at less than his best.
Olympic's tight, twisting Lake Course will punish wayward shots way more than the typical PGA Tour venue. Tall trees, thick rough, tiny greens -- it will not be a layout where Woods can rediscover his game on the fly.
He's wise to proceed cautiously, given the history with his left leg. But it doesn't bode well for the only tournaments that really matter to him, including the U.S. Open.