Golf, much like Rex Ryan, doesn’t do injury reports, but if they did Tiger Woods’ fortunes would have been upgraded from “day to day” to “probable” for this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship on Tuesday.
Although it’s hardly definitive, Woods’ website added the second playoff event to his schedule on Tuesday, suspending, at least temporarily, speculation that the world No. 1 would miss his start at TPC Boston following his most recent bout with a soft bed and a stiff back last week at The Barclays.
When asked on Sunday his plans for the Deutsche Bank, Woods was less than forthcoming and understandably so. “That’s all hypothetical right now. I just got off and I'm not feeling my best right now,” he said.
For Woods, this likely has little to do with his status on the FedEx Cup points list – the mathematical truth is he could win this week in Boston, in two weeks at the BMW Championship and tee off on Thursday at the Tour Championship with only a slightly larger lead (250 points) than he has right now (162 points) thanks to the algorithms of manufactured parity that is the pre-East Lake points reset.
Similarly, suggestions that Woods will play the Deutsche Bank because the event benefits his Tiger Woods Foundation seem widely inaccurate, if not downright misleading. He missed the DBC and AT&T National, which also benefits his foundation, in 2008 and ’11 with injury and has missed his own World Challenge twice since 2007. He skipped the AT&T this year as well, because of an elbow injury.
Nor does it seem within the realm of reason that Woods would go all Willis Reed – you remember the New York big man who helped the Knicks to the NBA crown on two bad knees – in order to secure his 11th PGA Tour Player of the Year Award.
In esoteric terms, this dovetails with the ongoing debate about whether Woods’ 2013 was a good or great campaign.
In broad strokes, W’s and L’s – particularly at the majors – are the ultimate scorecard, but on a more subtle, more intimate level, Woods’ decision to play the Deutsche Bank may be about the WD’s.
There have been no withdrawals in 2013, no surreal early exits like on Sunday at the 2012 WGC-Cadillac Championship (Achilles) or the 2011 Players Championship (knee and Achilles) or 2010 Players (“bad neck”). There was the aching elbow in June, but that didn't cause him to WD after the start of play.
If he can suit up and finish the playoffs it will mark the first time since 2009 that Woods played an entire season without an injury-induced withdrawal.
Maybe that means little to the man who remains a Grand Slam short of Jack Nicklaus’ record haul of 18 majors. But it’s important to point out that Woods didn’t go to Sean Foley looking for a swing that would win him four more majors, he went in search of an action that would allow him to play 40 more.
Where some see the relative frustration of another season without a major victory, Woods has quietly pieced together one of his healthiest campaigns in years – not to mention those five Tour titles. That’s no small accomplishment for a player who is widely considered an “old” 37.
One longtime trainer estimated that half the Tour will suffer from some sort of lower back ailment at some point in their careers, adding that for top players it’s almost always an over-use issue more so than a swing mechanics problem.
Without more information – like the Jets’ enigmatic head coach Ryan, Woods has historically been reluctant to give details on his litany of injuries – it’s impossible to know the extent of his debilitation, but according to another Tour trainer lower-back ailments are as common as they are treatable in professional golf.
“It’s a typical low-back strain that is complicated by nerve compression, spasm. He needs rest to heal up correctly (and) could be much better in a few weeks,” the trainer said.
With three playoff events in the next four weeks, however, time is not on Woods’ side.
Perhaps the most interesting element of Woods’ current bout with the training table is that he seemed to sense this one was inbound.
Last Wednesday, Woods only played nine holes during his pro-am round at The Barclays. “My neck and back are a little bit stiff, 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,” he said.
That’s in contrast to past injuries which seemed to show up, at least publically, unannounced. Last year at Doral, for example, he was asked how his body was “holding up” on the eve of the final round.
“Oh, it feels great.” Woods said at the time. Less than 24 hours later he was headed home after 11 holes.
Woods seemed to fuel speculation he would skip the Deutsche Bank on Monday when he withdrew from the NB3 Foundation Challenge, a charity event played on Wednesday and organized by friend Notah Begay III, to rest his ailing back.
But that move was akin to skipping an early-week practice. For Woods, who has in recent years predicated many of his more “big picture” answers on his ability to stay healthy, his decision to play this week won’t be based on points or Player of the Year implications so much as it is a more profound statement on the greater narrative.
There are going to be aches and pains, but if the long-term diagnosis remains clean – it has now been nearly 17 months since his last injury-induced withdrawal from an official Tour event – there is reason to remain optimistic.
And for a player who has spent more than his share of time in a doctor’s office in recent years, maybe that’s what turns a good year into a great one.