Now we know how bad it was.
And now that we know how bad it was, we also know how great it was.
In light of the news Wednesday that he's shutting down the 2008 season for reconstructive knee surgery and to recuperate a double stress fracture, Tiger Woods' U.S. Open triumph truly does stand apart in a career of epic performances. Golf and guts don't always go together, but they definitely do in this instance.
We knew his talent. We knew his focus. We knew his ability to perform under pressure. Now we have fresh evidence that Tiger's legendary determination might literally know no bounds.
"I'm playing in the U.S. Open and I'm going to win."
When they make the movie about Woods' life, be sure that quote is in the script verbatim. That was Tiger's reported response to the doctor who diagnosed the stress fractures in late May, and advised him against playing.
Woods didn't just ignore the advice, he backed up his promise. He didn't just play through sincere pain at Torrey Pines, he won. He didn't just endure, he prevailed.
And he went 91 holes to do it. Overtime, and then some. After following him all day Saturday and watching the chronic grimacing, I asked Woods whether he could grit his way through another 18. The response came before I'd even finished the question.
"I'll be fine."
Then he went another 19 on top of that 18. The sustained ability to play at the highest level with pain adds to the Tiger legacy.
I'm no doctor, and I don't even play one on TV, so I can't authoritatively compare what Woods did to Jack Youngblood's famously playing in Super Bowl XIV with a stress fracture in his left leg. But I do know this: Youngblood had to suck it up for three hours against the Pittsburgh Steelers; Tiger had to suck it up for five days.
He walked roughly 21 miles on the course at Torrey Pines, up hills and down, after being told by doctors that cooling out on crutches would be a better idea. He took hundreds of full-bore swings that put stress on that damaged left knee, and never used it as an excuse for the three double bogeys.
Clearly, there are no excuses in TigerLand. If there were, he would have told us up front how significant the injury was. Now that we know, all the idiots who said Woods was being a drama queen with all the wincing and limping are politely advised to shut up.
"In my mind, I honestly thought he was just going to give it his best effort, his 100 percent best effort all the way up until the tournament," his swing coach, Hank Haney, said. "I knew he wasn't going to bag it two weeks before. He was going to hope for a miracle until the last possible point that he couldn't make it. In my mind, that was the most likely scenario, he just would try until the end and then come to the realization that he couldn't go."
Woods made himself go. And go. And go some more. There would be no stopping until the thing was won.
"You just keep going," Woods said Monday of his mind-set. "And there's no finish line."
When Woods reaches the finish line of his career, he'll probably always look back at this Open as his greatest achievement. You just wonder what part of his future he might have sacrificed to win this one tournament. How much of himself did he leave at Torrey Pines?
Knee repair has come light years since the bygone days when a torn ACL meant the end of an athletic career. Doctors say Tiger should be back in six months, and you have to believe he'll bring the same zeal to his rehab that he brings to the course.
And Woods isn't relying on quickness and speed to do what he does anyway. It doesn't much matter if this affects his 40-yard dash time.
But the stress Woods' high-velocity/high-torque swing puts on his left knee isn't going to change much. Even if he revamps his swing yet again, he cannot completely spare the knee from abuse. This could be an issue, in one form or fashion, for as long as Tiger plays golf.
And we all know that he wants to play long enough to win five more majors. At least.
In the meantime, Tiger and his sport face vast uncertainty. Golf loses its energy source, and will now find out what it's like to be tennis or the WNBA for at least six months. (Put it this way: How many people would have wheedled their way to a TV Monday or watched the U.S. Open playoff online if it had been between Rocco Mediate and Lee Westwood?) Woods loses some of his invincibility, and will have to regain his health.
Will he still be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound in 2009? How much will this delay the timeline for overtaking Jack Nicklaus' record? Will he ever get there?
We won't begin to know those answers for six months, at the very least.
But don't ever bet against the guy. If he can win the U.S. Open on one leg, he can come back from this.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.