SAN DIEGO – The questions surrounding Tiger Woods’ game grew louder Thursday when he withdrew during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open because of tightness in his lower back.
Grimacing after each errant drive, Woods walked off Torrey Pines – site of arguably his greatest triumph – after only 11 holes on the North Course. He was 2 over par for the day, and once again near the bottom of the leaderboard.
Woods was only six days removed from his worst round as a pro, an 11-over 82 that resulted in a missed cut (by 12 shots) and last-place finish at the Phoenix Open. After that round, he denied having an injury, saying that he was “fine” and that his back was “not an issue anymore.”
First-round play was suspended for nearly 2 ½ hours Thursday because of fog, and Woods said his back tightened up during the delay.
“It just never loosened back up again,” he said during a 90-second interview in the players' parking lot, “and when we went back out it just got progressively tighter.”
Woods hit the green on the par-3 third hole, his 12th of the day, before deciding to call it quits.
“He toughed it out a lot more than any other playing competitor; they would have dropped off earlier,” said Billy Horschel, who was grouped with Woods. “But he’s a fighter, he wants to get the rips in, he wants to play well, and he kept trying to play through it, hoping that it would loosen up.
“I think it was getting there and then we had to wait when we made the turn and from there it was real tough to see him walk and even make swings.”
After two months of speculation about Woods’ woeful short game, the focus once again shifts to a familiar subject: his health.
The former world No. 1 said that this is a “different” pain than what he experienced last spring, when he decided to undergo a microdiscectomy in his lower back.
“It’s just my glutes are shutting off,” he said. “They don’t activate, hence it goes into my lower back. I tried to activate my glutes the best I could, but they never stayed activated.”
In the six PGA Tour events since returning to competition last July at the Quicken Loans National, Woods has three missed cuts, two withdrawals and a 69th-place finish.
This was the ninth withdrawal of his PGA Tour career, but his third in his past eight starts.
Woods’ opening round here began ominously, with a bogey on the opening hole (No. 10) after a skulled pitch shot. He appeared to grab his back for the first time after going hard after a driver on No. 11, but he chipped in to save par. He dropped another shot on the next hole, when his tee shot flew so far right it came to rest on the 13th tee box.
Gingerly picking up his tee and ball, Woods carded a birdie on 16, made the turn in 1-over 37 and added a birdie on No. 1. But by that point the pain was so intense that Horschel had begun picking up Woods' tee and retrieving his ball out of the cup. Woods made double bogey on his 11th hole of the day, and five minutes later he was gone.
“It’s frustrating that it started shutting down like that,” he said. “I was ready to go. I had a good warmup session the first time around, and I stood out here and got cold and it started deactivating again.”
Said Rickie Fowler, the third player in the group: “It’s tough to see. It’s hard to play when anything’s hurting.”
His upcoming schedule is now even more of a question mark. Woods had already plunged to No. 56 in the world, and he needed a high finish at Torrey Pines to move back into the top 50 and ensure his participation at the World Golf Championships event at Doral.
Woods’ next scheduled start is the Feb. 26-March 1 Honda Classic.
Tiger Woods Starts Since 2014 Farmers Insurance Open
|2015 Farmers Insurance Open||+2 thru 11||WD|
|Waste Management Phoenix Open||73-82||Cut|
|2014 Hero World Challenge||77-70-69-72||T-17|
|Quicken Loans National||74-75||Cut|
|Omega Dubai Desert Classic||68-73-70-71||T-41|
|Farmers Insurance Open||72-71-79||T-80|