The good news for Tiger Woods fans is that at least he finished his round this Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. The bad news is he played his way out of the tournament by his fourth hole, and then spent the afternoon wincing in pain, barely able to pick his ball up out of the hole due to the persistent back problems that have plagued him the last two weeks.
The first sign of Woods' back issues popped up last Sunday, just an hour up the road in Palm Beach, when he started hitting it all over the place just one day after shooting a 65 to get back in the Honda Classic. This week, Tiger put together his best round of the season so far on Saturday, shooting a red hot 66 in the third round to get right back in contention with 18 holes to play.
Last week, Woods was still a longshot, starting the final round seven shots back of the lead. This week, though, he had a good chance to defend his title at Doral, starting three shots back of Patrick Reed. By the sixth hole, however, that deficit was eight shots and it was clear the back spasm problem was bothering him again. He started the day by plunking two fans in his first three holes, and then dropping one in the middle of the water at No. 3
After that shot, he was seen wincing in pain and clearly laboring through the back issues again. After back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 3 and 4, Woods then put himself in an awkward spot on No. 6, his ball in a fairway bunker that required a weird stance standing halfway out of the sand above the ball. Tiger took a rip, but afterwards, he went for the back again.
Those three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the front side would end his shot at a comeback. An inexcusable three-putt on the reachable par-5 8th hole put a cap on the disastrous outward 39.
It would just get worse for Tiger, who let Hunter Mahan's caddie pick his ball out of the hole at the 11th to give his back some relief. He could barely stand over the ball and adjust his spine to make a putting stroke. The winces and grimaces came after almost every shot, but he did not back out like last week at the Honda. The round came to an end with another hooked tee shot into the water at No. 18, where he grimaced all the way up the fairway.
When it was all over, Woods finished with a 6-over round of 78, his worst ever at this event, worse than the 76 he shot two days earlier:
This was just the eighth round of Tiger's career he did not make a birdie, a mark he's threatened on a couple different occasions during this underwhelming start to the season. I wrote at the start of the week that we have no idea what to expect right now from Woods, and he finished the weekend maintaining that theme. It was yet another sudden turn in the total unpredictability of Tiger's 2014.
A win at this event last year set up his return to No .1 in the world at Bay Hill, but given the way his back looked, Arnold Palmer's tournament in two weeks could be in doubt. With the Masters just one month away, we'll likely come to Augusta having no idea what kind of golf Tiger is playing and whether or not he's healthy enough to put together four good rounds.