“I feel good, not great,” Tiger Woods told chief executive of the R&A, Peter Dawson. “I don’t think I’ll ever feel great again because it’s been three back surgeries and four knee operations.”
That somewhat pessimistic characterization of his own health condition puts a dark shadow over Tiger Woods’ prospects of ever surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships. Woods owns 14 majors and is second to The Golden Bear on the all-time major winners’ list. Moreover, with the field of impressive and fit young talent on the PGA tour, the question becomes whether a “good” Tiger can ever walk off the 18th hole on a Sunday afternoon resting alone at the top of the leaderboard.
A back spasm last week at the Dubai Desert Classic forced Woods to pull himself from the tournament after stumbling to a five-over-par 77 in the first round. The 41-year-old, who once dominated the sport and ranked #1 in the world for over a decade, now must lower the expectations bar as he faces the reality of a failing body. “I’m always going to be a little bit sore. As long as I can function, I’m fine with that,” Tiger spoke.
“It was a tough, tough road,” the beleaguered golf icon told CNN when referring to his protracted 15-month layoff to recover from his last two back surgeries. “There was a lot of dark times where I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t move, the pain was too great.
“Anyone who’s ever had nerve pain in their back, they certainly understand what that feels like. I honestly didn’t know this time last year, I didn’t know if I’d ever play golf again. Just because of the fact that it’s nerve pain.”
Woods started his comeback in December playing at his own tournament, the Hero World Challenge, where he showed some glimpses of his old self. He fired a 65 on his Friday round and led the field with most birdies over the four-day tournament, despite finishing 15th in a field of 18.
Woods teed it up for his first PGA-sanctioned tournament since his layoff, the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, two weeks ago. That ended poorly for the winner of 79 PGA tournaments, as he failed to make the cut to play on the weekend. The positive takeaway, however, was he felt strong and swung well. Unfortunately, the flat stick failed him during his Thursday and Friday rounds, where he misread greens and lipped out several putts. Woods previously won at Torrey Pines 8 times, including the US Open in 2008.
Friday Woods announced on his own website “that due to ongoing back spasms, similar to what he experienced in Dubai, he will be unable to compete in the Genesis Open and The Honda Classic.”
“My doctors have advised me not to play the next two weeks, to continue my treatment and to let my back calm down,” Woods explains. “This is not what I was hoping for or expecting. I am extremely disappointed to miss the Genesis Open, a tournament that benefits my foundation, and The Honda Classic, my hometown event. I would like to thank Genesis for their support, and I know we will have an outstanding week.”
Tiger was scheduled to play both of those tournaments as key stepping stones to sharpening his game for his return to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in April. Woods’ chance to add another major victory to his distinguished career appears to be fading away once again.