JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Uh-oh. It looks like this might be another one of those weeks again …
You know the type. A week where the guys in Tiger Woods pajamas and the guys drinking Haterade wage Braveheart-like wars on Internet message boards. A week where battle lines are drawn in the social media sand.
It happens pretty frequently, actually. After all, the following should come as no surprise: Some fans really like rooting for Tiger and others, well, really don’t.
The best player in the world is also the most polarizing, which means that anytime there’s a prevailing issue swirling around him, observers will hurriedly divide into two separate factions and come out swinging.
Which is only ironic because Tiger himself wasn’t doing much swinging on Wednesday.
This week’s issue is another injury – or at least a little pain that he’s been experiencing so far. After suffering through some back and neck stiffness at the PGA Championship two weeks ago, Tiger didn’t hit any full shots during the back nine at The Barclays pro-am, electing to only chip and putt for precautionary measures instead.
“My neck and back are a little bit stiff,” he said afterward. “It was stiff this morning after a soft bed and just one of those things, sleeping in hotels and I didn't want to push it, so just took it easy and chipped and putted.”
What’s so polarizing about this? Why should a little stiffness cause such a divide?
Because of his past history.
Those in the pro-Tiger camp will contend that their man has lived with a series of bumps and bruises over the past decade – ranging from season-ending to annoyingly nagging – and always fought through it, returning soon thereafter to find more success. They’ll recall with intricate detail the 2008 U.S. Open, when he competed with a torn ACL and multiple leg fractures, but still captured the title.
Those in the anti-Tiger camp will maintain that he is simply setting everyone up for another disappointment, skeptically viewing through a half-empty glass some recent results for which he may have been excused due to a few winces and grimaces, including at this very event last year. They’ll point out his three withdrawals since 2010, and how each conveniently occurred when he was playing something less than his best golf.
Such is life when you’re the No. 1-ranked player in the world and stalking an 80th career victory. Even a sore back gets monitored under a microscope whose lens is affixed only on you.
As for whether this pain will have lingering effects, Tiger contested for the second time in 10 days that it is but a mere bother and won’t leave him restricted for very long. That’s right – this same ailment noticeably affected him during the final round of the PGA Championship, but he maintained then, too, that he wasn’t worried about it.
It seems like an intriguing coincidence that his neck and back would bother him at Oak Hill, then feel “fine at home,” only to flare up the next time he entered a competitive environment. Then again, stranger things have happened.
This wouldn’t, however, be the first time that Tiger underplayed his pain. This is a player who hardly let on how much he was hurting before that U.S. Open win five years ago. A player who once went an entire season with an Achilles injury, never once publicly acknowledging that he was hurt.
These are always commendable yet curious decisions. Commendable because he isn’t putting forth excuses for why he isn’t or won’t play well; curious because unlike an NFL running back who doesn’t want to give up secrets to an opposing linebacker, Tiger’s peers can’t do anything to take advantage of his ailments.
We will find out Thursday – then, likely, again Friday, Saturday and Sunday – whether this neck and back stiffness will gradually dissipate and be long forgotten while he takes aim at the leaderboard or continue being a relative thorn in his side, keeping him from playing his best golf.
On Wednesday, Tiger was saying all the right things, maintaining that a hotel bed was the root cause of his problems.
When inquired as to whether he’d find a different bed to sleep in for the week, he smiled and countered, “What do you think?”
That very question could be asked of the separate factions this week, each one again drawing their lines in the sand in regard to yet another polarizing issue on the man.