DORAL, Fla. – With one swing, Selection Sunday turned into Speculation Sunday.
These are the facts: Tiger Woods busted a drive 321 yards deep into Doral’s 12th fairway and proceeded to the nearest exit. His curt answer when asked by a PGA Tour official for a statement was, “Leg . . . left leg,” but a release was later issued clarifying the injury to his left Achilles tendon, which he has struggled with before.
In the moments before his withdrawal from the WGC-Cadillac Championship Woods grimaced after hitting his second shot on the par-5 10th hole and again on the 12th tee. Woods’ second shot at No. 10 dropped into a water hazard left of the green and he made a scrambling par at No. 11 from a greenside bunker.
Playing his third week in a row, and his fifth tournament this season, Woods was 3 over par and 10 strokes adrift of the lead. Doral marks the third time in three years Woods failed to go the distance at a marquee PGA Tour stop in Florida and opened a void of speculation that will not soon be filled. It also had a surreal déjà vu feeling to it.
In 2010 at The Players Woods also failed to put in a full work week, out after just eight holes on Sunday with an ailing neck he feared was a bulging disk that led to a lost month.
Less than a year ago Woods managed just nine holes at TPC Sawgrass, penciled in a 6-over 42 on the outward loop and bolted in a white Mercedes-Benz with an ailing left knee bound for a three-month stint on the DL.
The only difference on Sunday at Doral was the color of the Mercedes-Benz (black) and the direction he was headed on Interstate-95 (north). But he’s been here before.
Woods suffered a “mild strain to his left Achilles,” along with a ligament sprain in his left knee, hitting out of the pine straw under the Eisenhower Tree adjacent the 17th hole at Augusta National last year in Round 3 and sources suggested at the time that the ailment was much more concerning than his often-ailing left knee.
Physical trainer types agree an Achilles injury is fickle, slow to heal and easily re-injured, all of which made Woods’ statement even more worrisome.
“I felt tightness in my left Achilles warming up this morning, and it continued to get progressively worse. After hitting my tee shot at 12, I decided it was necessary to withdraw,” Woods’ statement read. “In the past, I may have tried to continue to play, but this time, I decided to do what I thought was necessary.”
Woods said he plans to have the Achilles “evaluated sometime early next week,” but that will do little in the short term to quiet speculation that had already reached a crescendo before Sunday’s leaders reached the turn at Doral.
How this most recent setback impacts Woods’ plans to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational in two weeks and next month’s Masters remain to be seen, but for a player who had become something of a model of good health since his return at last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational it is a blow.
Asked on Saturday in South Florida how his current stretch of golf, which was scheduled to feature five events in seven weeks, had impacted him physically Woods was succinct: “Oh, it feels great.”
But even that is something of Woods’ modus operandi.
In 2010 at The Players he was asked if he was having any physical issues and his answer was, “No, zero. Absolutely 100 percent.” Two days later he withdrew, and a day before his early exit at Sawgrass last year Woods gave a similar response.
It is the nature of sport and a body that has spent more time under an orthopedic’s knife than one would like that injuries can, and often do, crop up. Truth be told Woods likely had more questions than the stunned Doral masses as he made his way home on Sunday.
His health, particularly his often operated-on left knee, has been a cornerstone of Woods’ comeback in recent months. It has been his ability to practice, almost as much as his work with swing coach Sean Foley, that has given Woods a reason to be optimistic.
At his season opener in Abu Dhabi Woods was in the hunt late into the final round and charged from nine strokes back last week at the Honda Classic with a closing 62 for his best official Tour finish since the 2009 BMW Championship.
Even as a windswept Sunday began in South Florida Woods’ galleries swelled with anticipation of another comeback. Woods was tied for 10th in driving accuracy through 54 holes with a swing that was starting to look controlled, almost clinical, but then he turned in 2 over, changed golf shoes and would be at home long before the trophy ceremony.
That sound you heard late Sunday afternoon emanating from South Florida was a collective gasp from the golf world. Well, that and yet another flight on approach to Miami International Airport.
Webb Simpson, who was paired with Woods on Sunday, noticed on Woods’ tee shot at No. 12 that he looked “really hurt.”
“He just said he's got to be done. It looked like he was in some pain,” Simpson said. “We didn't talk or anything so I'm not sure exactly what it was.”
Which put Simpson in a similar frame of mind to the rest us as innuendo replaced insight and speculation was replaced by a predictably vague statement. We’ve all been here before – Woods, the Tour, the fans. A world once defined by predictability has become pyrotechnic, and a comeback that finally appeared on track is on hold, again.