Ernie Els is likely out of action until early next year after injuring his left knee, but he has been assured that he should suffer no lasting damage to the knee.
The No. 3-ranked player in the world, Els ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament when his body twisted on the knee while on a sailing holiday with his family in the Mediterranean last week. He underwent a preliminary operation last Thursday, and now must wait until the knee is strong enough for full reconstructive surgery.
The ACL "is an important ligament within the knee which, in brief, provides rotational stability for the knee," said his surgeon, Andrew Unwin, in a report on Els' Web site. "If the knee repeatedly gives way," it can suffer more damage, leading to premature osteoarthritis of the joint.
In the reconstructive operation, which has not yet been scheduled, Unwin expects to replace the ruptured ACL with tendons from Els' hamstrings to restore the knee's rotational stability. "They are held in the bone around the knee using small screws and anchors," he said, "and the operation is largely arthroscopic."
Before Els can undergo the reconstructive surgery, his knee "needs to regain its full range of movement, there needs to be no swelling and there should be good muscular control around the joint," Unwin said. After that operation, no braces or splints will be necessary and he will need crutches for only a few days.
Els "hopefully can pick up a golf club at about eight weeks from the operation," Unwin said. "He should be able to start playing gentle golf at 8-10 weeks and hopefully playing professionally again by 16 weeks. This compares very favorably with contact sports such as soccer or rugby where a return is delayed for 6-9 months."
"Many professional sportsmen and women have returned to a first-class level following a reconstruction," Unwin said. "A great deal of effort both physically and psychologically is needed, but there's absolutely no reason why professionals cannot return to their pre-existing standard of activity."
A statement from International Sports Management, Els' management company, last week indicated that he would be out of action for the remainder of the 2005 golf season. He is now said to be pointing toward a return at the South African Airways Open in January, though that is not confirmed.
That means he would miss the PGA Championship next week, the Presidents Cup in September and such other important events as the WGC-NEC Championship, the Tour Championship and the HSBC World Match Play Championship in England.
"Obviously, the timing is unfortunate. Although let's face it, there's no such thing as a good time to get injured," Els said on his Web site. "But what can you do? There's no point dwelling on your bad luck, or whatever. All I'm doing is focusing on getting better as quickly as possible, so I'm out of action for not a day longer than I have to be."
Els had been focusing his game on the PGA Championship in an attempt to salvage what had been a disappointing season of majors for him so far in 2005. After a 2004 season in which he finished in the top 10 in all four majors, this year he has managed finishes of 47th in the Masters, tied for 15th in the U.S. Open and tied for 35th in the Open Championship.
He has, however, won three times already this year, at the Dubai Desert Classic, the Qatar Masters and the BMW Asian Open, though his best finish on the PGA Tour in 2005 is a second at the Sony Open in Hawaii in the second week of the season. He is currently fifth on the European Tour Order of Merit and 21st on the PGA Tour money list, and ranks second in Presidents Cup points, behind Vijay Singh, for the International Team.
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