Tiger Woods’ bad back puts Masters start in doubt

Chris Trotman

Tiger Woods's struggles on Sunday at Doral raises concerns about his ability to play Bay Hill in two weeks and Augusta in a month.

Before Tiger Woods took the field last week at Doral, he had just 10-plus competitive rounds on his 2014 resume and the golf world wondered if he should add more events to his schedule ahead of the Masters.

After notching his Doral-worst 6-over 78 and sounding, post-round, more like a medical student than a 14-time major winner looking forward to competing for his fifth green jacket, Woods had pundits believing he might subtract a tourney from his calendar and questioning his ability to go at Augusta.

"It's over. It's finally done, so ‑‑ which is good," Woods told reporters after grimacing his way around the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship in which he went birdie-less for only the eighth time in his career.

For sure, it was a roller-coaster weekend for Woods, who carded his then-Doral-worst 76, on Friday, and rebounded with a tournament-best 66 on Saturday that put him in contention to overtake eventual wire-to-wire winner Patrick Reed (who went all in your face by sporting Tiger’s Sunday red and black) heading into Sunday. Indeed, Woods appeared primed to make a run for his fifth victory on the revamped Blue Monster layout, until he quickly put those expectations to rest by conking spectators on the first and third holes on his way to three bogeys in his first six.

It was his bunker shot on the sixth hole, though, that sealed Tiger’s fate for his remaining 12 holes and put his near and long-term future in serious doubt.

"It basically started on six, the second shot out of the bunker, my foot was out of the bunker," Woods said about his ungainly position that had his right foot leaning against the bunker and his left in the sand. "That's what set it off and then it was done after that. Just see if I could ... keep the spasms at bay. But anything in flexion was done, so the deeper the flexion, the worse it felt."

From that point, with the 79-time PGA Tour winner regularly wincing and clutching at his back as he had prior to his final-round withdrawal from the Honda Classic a week before, the Tiger watch was on, with broadcasters and the Twitter-verse wondering not if, but when, Woods would stage a back-to-back walk-off.

Despite his obvious pain, Woods, who was chagrined last week to have to explain to his six-year-old daughter Sam "why you quit," said withdrawing was not an option.

What lies ahead for Woods remains a mystery, especially after he conceded on Wednesday, in an unusually candid discussion about his health, that his aching and aging back was a definite concern going forward.

"I've learned it as I've aged, I don't quite heal as fast as I used to. I just don't bounce back like I used to," acknowledged the 38-year-old superstar. "There's times that -- watching my kids run around, I wish I could do that again. They just bounce right up, bruises and they are gone in a day. It's just not that way anymore. But you've just got to take a more global look at it sometimes and take a step back [and] try to manage that all the time."

Woods’ most recent injury, which he said first bothered him in college and flared up last August before The Barclays, was a challenge unlike those he had faced with his knee over the years.

"A bad back is something that is no joke," said Woods, who observed that he knew what type of pain to expect in the past. "With the back, it's a totally different deal. There are certain moments, certain movements you just can't do. That's one of the things I've started to learn about this type of injury; it's very different. "

What remains to be seen is whether his stalwart performance on Sunday will knock him out of a title defense in two weeks at Bay Hill, where he’s won eight times, set him back in his pre-Augusta prep, or force him to miss the first major of the season altogether.

Woods, who’s slated to tee it up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, said he would continue getting help for his back and expected to make his next start, but Sunday’s painful round certainly raised more concerns about his physical well-being, with a month to go until the Masters, than it allayed.

''Just let me get through this day, get some treatment and we'll assess it as time goes on,'' said Woods, who noted he had undergone an MRI and "all the protocols," and looked forward to resting his weary back. "It will be nice to take this week off and get everything ready for Bay Hill."

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