For the second consecutive year Woods didn’t put in a full week at TPC Sawgrass, done in this time by an ailing left knee and Achilles that he injured during last month’s Masters.
On Tuesday Woods said he didn’t know what to expect from his injured left leg. It took him just one swing to find out on Thursday.
“The knee acted up and then the Achilles followed after that and then the calf started cramping up,” said Woods, who withdrew after nine holes at 6 over par, 14 strokes behind first-round leader Nick Watney and lost on a leaderboard that featured 78 scores of par or better. “Everything started getting tight, so it’s just a whole chain reaction.”
At the fourth hole the chain began unraveling. From the left rough he hit his approach into a water hazard, from the drop zone he found the same water hazard and needed an 18 footer to salvage a triple bogey-7.
From there his game, and his health, seemed to deteriorate with each shot. There was a grimace when he pulled his approach shot left of the fifth green and a pained knee flex following his drive at No. 6.
Woods, who didn’t play last week’s Wells Fargo Championship while he rested his assorted injuries, said the wayward tee shot at No. 4 was related to his leg and by the time he chipped his third shot into a bunker at the par-5 ninth he was done.
All that remained was the paperwork and another surreal snapshot – this time of Woods climbing into his white Mercedes-Benz for the long, lonely drive back down Interstate-95.
He briefly visited the Tour’s fitness trailer, but that was more a formality than a form of treatment. Tour regulations require a player provide the circuit documentation for a withdrawal within 14 days. “Since 99 percent of the time the player has been working with our physio team they usually stop in there afterward and this note is provided by them,” said Tyler Dennis, the Tour’s vice president of competitions.
Last year Woods withdrew seven holes into his final round at The Players with a previously undisclosed neck injury. By comparison this year was almost predictable.
A man who once lived by the mantra that he never showed up unless he was ready to win, rolled into north Florida this week having not touched a club since Augusta National. He played just nine holes on Tuesday and another nine on Wednesday and seemed out of sync from the outset of his opening round.
He was slow, almost sluggish. To put it in context, Kevin Na moves faster. To put it in perspective, he looked like a man doing Tour commissioner Tim Finchem a favor.
That he was playing TPC Sawgrass was a bigger surprise than his early exit. It’s now been a decade since he won the “fifth major” and a player who has etched out a Hall-of-Fame career by outworking his competition has become something of a part-time player, the byproduct of injury and off-course turmoil.
The mind may be willing, but not the body.
Asked if he was advised by his doctors not to play TPC Sawgrass, Woods said he was not. “They said I could play,” he said “The more rest the better it would be, obviously. It’s a big event.”
The tournament that is, not Woods’ withdrawal. Although the latter certainly qualifies as a happening. One source with knowledge of the injury said the bigger concern is the Achilles ailment, which are historically slow to heal and easy to reinjure.
A Tour trainer said it would take a “normal person” about eight weeks to fully recover from a similar injury. But, of course. Woods doesn’t have that kind of time, nor is he a “normal person.”
He now has three weeks before his next potential start at the Memorial, and just over a month before the U.S. Open. Make no mistake, the man who dismissed doctors’ orders to play the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg will be at Congressional the second week of June.
The only question is what will he bring to the season’s second major? Or even if he will be able to play Congressional?
The camp’s plan now is to wait. Asked if Woods intended to have a magnetic resonance imaging test done on his ailing left knee or Achilles his manager, Mark Steinberg, said via e-mail: “That is not the case. We are in the evaluating phase right now and will determine the next steps.”
For all the concerns that were born from Woods’ off-course missteps in 2010, it was his slowly deteriorating health that should have concerned the powers in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., the most.
Scandal, it now seems, he can deal with. A chronically ailing left leg and a swing that takes a toll with every turn, however, may be a different story.
Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggardGC