Tiger faces familiar foe: Uncertainty


The scorecard never lies, and in his ongoing efforts to wrest himself from the clutches of injury Tiger Woods is officially off to a poor start.

Of the potential 16 tournament rounds he had penciled into his calendar to start 2017, he has played just three, and 3-for-16 isn’t any better in golf than it is baseball.

If we are being completely honest, Friday’s announcement was neither a surprise nor revealing. Woods announced via his website that he won’t play next week’s Genesis Open or the Honda Classic as he waits, however patiently, for the back spasms that led to his leaving Dubai last week after just a single trip around Emirates Golf Club to subside.

“My doctors have advised me not to play the next two weeks, to continue my treatment and to let my back calm down,” Woods said. “This is not what I was hoping for or expecting.”

The Genesis Open benefits Woods’ foundation and the release said he still plans to travel to Los Angeles to support the event in a ceremonial role, which also isn’t what he was expecting. Not at 41 with a full year of rest and rehabilitation under his belt, not after following doctor’s orders so thoroughly, which hasn’t always been easy for the 14-time major champion, and rediscovering his competitive zeal.

Things didn’t go great in his soft return to the competitive fray last year, when he finished 15th out of 17 players at his own Hero World Challenge, but there was enough to give Woods, and those who follow his every step, a reason to be optimistic.

Even last week after an opening 77 in Dubai, there was a measure of positive feedback that gave Tiger a reason to look forward to Round 2, to the upcoming stretch of golf that promised to challenge him both physically and mentally.

“The last two drives I hit off of [Nos.] 8 and 9 today, there's something different,” he said last Thursday. “I need to figure out what the hell I did that was different, and then replicate it for another, you know, hopefully another 54 more holes.”

The results are in on the physical toll his ambitious start has caused. Playing back-to-back weeks was always going to be difficult, but adding a 17-hour flight from San Diego, where he missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in his first official Tour start in 17 months, to Dubai certainly didn’t help.

According to Friday’s release, Woods’ “possible playing schedule after Honda will be determined at a later date after his back is reassessed.” Although Tiger is normally guarded when it comes to both his schedule and his general health, there was no ambiguity on Friday.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he’s won eight times, would be his next likely start and there has been some speculation that he’d add an event, perhaps the Valspar Championship or Shell Houston Open, before heading to the Masters but it’s become painfully clear it’s not more reps he needs at this point.

Although Tiger remains hopeful his current path will return him to, if not glory, then at the least competitive relevance, every trip back to the disabled list, every abbreviated week like Dubai erodes that confidence. By all accounts, Woods has remained patient in the face of increasingly diminished returns, but this is becoming less about his age and ability and more about science.

Woods, who has had three back procedures since April 2014, is now roughly 15 months removed from his last trip to the surgeon’s table. By comparison, Davis Love III is 10 years older than Tiger and won on the Tour 18 months after back surgery.

Woods has said all along he won’t know the state of his game until he’s healthy, so to be fair the current scorecard isn’t about birdies and bogeys but instead starts and stops – and given his current condition that might be the toughest competitor he’s ever faced.