Horschel corrects critics, says Woods is 'close'


SAN DIEGO – Billy Horschel had a front-row seat to Tiger Woods’ early exit Thursday at Torrey Pines.

Plagued by tightness in his lower back, Woods withdrew after 11 holes on the North Course. Late in the round, he was in so much discomfort that Horschel began to pick up Woods’ tees and retrieve his ball out of the cup.

“It’s unfortunate,” Horschel said afterward, “because I consider him a friend and I want to see him get back to his level of play that we all know he can, and I don’t think he’s that far off. If he can just stay healthy and be able to work on it, I think we would see the results.”

But health has been the issue for Woods for the past 16 months. This was his third withdrawal in his past eight PGA Tour starts, and though the injury didn’t seem overly serious, it was enough to sideline him at a time when he desperately needs more tournament rounds under his belt.

Woods withdraws | Back again | Injury timeline | Photo gallery

Woods was coming off his worst score as a pro, an 82 in the second round of the Phoenix Open that led to a missed cut (by 12 shots). He botched several routine shots around the greens, and when he showed up at the Farmers Insurance Open on Wednesday, he was seen chatting with Horschel and rehearsing a few drills with his wedges.

“I think he’s doing a lot of good things in his game,” Horschel said. “I think he’s not that far off, considering where everyone else is thinking, but from my eye I feel like he’s really close to playing well. It’s just a matter of getting some reps and staying healthy so he can work on his game.”

When told that from an outside perspective it looks like Woods’ game is in disarray – the two-way miss with the driver, the inconsistent irons, the myriad short-gamewoes – Horschel said that he sees a player who is working on the right things.

“Not to criticize you all, but I have a golfer’s eye – it’s what I do as my profession – and I have a better eye than what you all do,” he said. “I’ve seen what his swing has become and I think it’s a lot better, but it’s tough to describe to people how spasms are when you take it back and you’re coming down with spasms and you block it or you flip it or whatever. It’s tough to see. He couldn’t swing the way he wanted to. …

“Being a golfer and being a professional, I feel like I have a decent understanding of the swing and the way things should look and the way things should work. … I still don’t think he’s that far off. I think it’s just some more reps and some more time practicing and getting it to where he feels a little bit more comfortable.

“I know what you guys think and what you guys say, but to me, what I see and what I think are complete opposite.”