PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – It’s been a shooting pain for Tiger Woods of late, first from his rebuilt left knee to his Achilles tendon, then onto his heart, the byproduct of self-inflicted transgressions, and now, as we learned in a dramatic turn at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday, his neck is on the DL.
Dr. Tiger says he thinks the injury that forced him to withdraw 6 ½ holes into his final turn at The Players Championship might be a “bulging disc.” As diagnoses go that assessment seemed more symptom than ailment.
As Woods struggled with every demanding shot this week many figured his problems were the byproduct of his off-course troubles. Now it seems his pain comes of equal parts physical and mental.
From three starts come frightening trends. The one-time Teflon kid can’t seem to wash off controversy these days. In three post-Nov. 27 starts he’s finished fourth at Augusta National and fumed in a post-round interview, missed just his sixth cut as a professional by a “Green Mile” at Quail Hollow and looked like former president Richard Nixon bolting Sawgrass on Sunday.
Woods declined to speak with the media after his WD, instead filling a PGA Tour-generated transcript with one-liners of the wrong kind.
“I withdrew,” he said.
Any idea what caused it?
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I know playing doesn’t help,” he said.
Did playing this week make it a lot worse?
“Well, I’m having a hard time with the pain. There’s tingling down my fingers,” he said.
You get the idea. It all adds up to one of the most confounding “alphabet soup for the confused golfer” cards one could ever imagine: fourth, MC, WD.
Moments after he withdrew Woods emerged from the sprawling TPC clubhouse and ducked into one of the Tour’s fitness trailers for therapy. Or at least that’s the best guess because when he emerged from the trailer 34 minutes later he was in no mood to talk to the assembled media horde.
Perhaps the most telling assessment of the situation came when Butch Harmon, Woods’ former swing coach and the current architect of archrival Phil Mickelson’s action, walked past.
“Neck?” he asked with a perplexed look on his face.
It was news to Harmon. It was news to everyone. But according to Woods’ one-liner transcript he’s been playing with the ailment since before the Masters.
To be fair, everything about Woods’ 6 ½ holes suggests something was wrong. He was 2 over through six holes and had just played his second shot at the seventh hole from the pine straw short of the green when he sent caddie Steve Williams to gather his golf ball and shook hands with playing partner Jason Bohn, a man that knows a thing or two about neck and back ailments.
Bohn, a winner for the second time on Tour last month in New Orleans, was nearly run out of the game when a procedure to repair a fragmented disc in his back in 2008 resulted in a sliced spinal cord. He spent the next 32 days flat on his back, hoping for the best.
“When he said it was his neck I was like ‘You’ve got to go. You have to take care of yourself,’” Bohn said. “I’m kind of glad he doesn’t take any chances. . . . I want him back out here as quick as possible.”
On Saturday Woods suggested he needed more reps to prepare for next month’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the site of his 15-stroke Open walk-over in 2000. On Sunday he suggested he would be getting “a picture” (MRI) of the ailment in the coming days and that he might be headed for his fourth Tour hiatus in three years.
It is, essentially, another layer of mystery for a man who is suddenly incapable, or unwilling, to keep secrets.
After his 34-minute therapy session Woods emerged from the trailer, signature red Sunday shirt untucked and black Nike wrap-around glasses guarding him from prying eyes, and slumped into the first of two waiting SUVs.
Next stop, Isleworth. After that it’s anyone’s guess.