ORLANDO, Fla. — To panic seems extreme, but that and any and all emotions surrounding Tiger Woods and his decision Friday to skip the Players Championship are certainly valid at this point.
Pull your hair out. Fret and fuss. Spew doom and gloom. Go dark. It’s all fair when the subject is Tiger’s back and his inability to play tournament golf.
He has been down this road too many times, with too many potholes along the way, to think of it as anything but worrisome.
Skipping the Arnold Palmer Invitational here at Bay Hill is one thing, even though he has won the tournament eight times. The idea of playing consecutive weeks, at age 44 with a fused back and four surgeries, is one he is willing to entertain less and less.
That, of course, assumed he’d be ready in time for the Players, the PGA Tour’s flagship tournament, the next-best thing to a major championship and a tournament Woods has won twice.
Missing that one, too?
Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, offered nothing more than a text that read: “Back just not ready. Not concerning long term, just not ready.”
Given the chance to ask — a simple question: How could this not be concerning?
Is there more to it than just a stiff back? Is another part of the back compromised? Could it be some other injury not being disclosed — like the knee troubles that plagued him last year that nobody had a clue about until Woods announced he had surgery?
Woods complained of back stiffness at Riviera and skipped a tournament in Mexico where the temperatures were hot, where there was no cut, and where last year he tied for 10th without the same strong game he had shown at the end of 2019.
Given that week and the Honda Classic week to rest and recover, Woods wasn’t ready to go at Bay Hill. OK, there’s that not-playing-two-straight-weeks deal. But then a no-go at the Players as well?
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire
Perhaps some long-forgotten history is in play, and Woods has learned the lesson of past transgressions. TPC Sawgrass is no place to show up if you’re not ready to play, and given the fact that his back is giving him issues, it is difficult to envision Woods having practiced to the level necessary to be competitive.
Way back in 2011, Woods suffered knee and Achilles injuries during the final round of the Masters. The injury kept him out until the Players, which was then played in May. He showed up, looked terrible, shot 42 for nine holes and withdrew. And he wasn’t seen again until August, with a lackluster result at the Bridgestone Invitational followed by a missed cut at the PGA Championship.
The point is there is no sense in rushing to play a tournament if you are not prepared to play it.
But the fact that he isn’t ready to play says everything and why Steinberg’s words of reassurance are anything but. Woods has teed it up for just eight competitive rounds in 2020, the latter two a 76-77 effort at Riviera that marked his two worst rounds in six months.
That victory at the Zozo Championship in October seems a long time ago.
And the Masters will be here before you know it.
Woods’ feel-good victory a year ago looks even more remarkable amid the context of all the injury woes he has dealt with over the past 12 months. Woods played six tournaments during the rest of 2019 and never looked very good in any of them.
Then he had knee surgery, and it was as if he had experienced the Fountain of Youth. He won in Japan, he contended in the Bahamas and he was the best player at the Presidents Cup.
Now he’s back to battling his back or maybe something more dire.
If it is truly a situation of just needing more time, the Valspar Championship — where he tied for second two years ago — would be in play. So would the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, where he tied for fifth last year.
“The idea is to peak around Augusta time,” Woods said three weeks ago at Riviera.
And yet … it is difficult to peak if you can’t play.