Sports

Is It Time to Start Worrying About Tiger Woods?

When Tiger Woods chose not to play at the WGC-Mexico Championship the week after finishing last at The Genesis Invitational, it made a little sense. He’s simply not wanting to play in back-to-back weeks.

But then Woods chose to skip out on the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, a tournament he’s won a record eight times. Woods simply said that his back wasn’t ready. Okay, we know that Tiger has had four back surgeries. But golf fans were told that there shouldn’t be any cause for concern. Woods skipped Bay Hill last year as well and still won The Masters. But Tiger Woods surely wouldn’t miss The Players Championship, right?

Well, we now know that Woods has chosen to skip out on the PGA Tour’s flagship event, which begins Thursday at famed TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The reason this time around? Yep, the back still isn’t ready to go.

Is it time to start worrying about Tiger Woods?

Tiger Woods says his back still isn’t ready

There’s no need to once again go into the detailed history of Tiger Woods’ back problems. The four surgeries have been discussed at length. Every golf fan in the world knows it’s an issue and it kept Woods out of action for nearly two years.

But after the fourth surgery, Woods has come back strong. He won his first tournament in nearly five years at the Tour Championship in 2018. He won twice in 2019, including the win at Augusta for major number 15 and the Zozo Championship, which gave him PGA Tour win number 82, tying him for the all-time lead.

But he’s only made two starts in 2020. In late January, Woods tied for ninth at the Farmers Insurance Open. Then there was the last-place finish at Riviera, where Woods first mentioned the back stiffness this year. And it seems to be a lingering issue. Even with a limited schedule, Tiger has missed two tournaments he played in 2019 on the way to Augusta. Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, told ESPN following Tiger’s announcement that he’d be skipping The Players that the back issue “is not concerning long term, just not ready.”

This may just be Tiger’s new normal

Golf fans continue to be told that Tiger’s back will be fine, either by Woods himself or through his agent. Perhaps there’s something being hidden. Or maybe that’s actually the truth. Another truth is that Tiger Woods is 44-year-old man with a lot of rounds of golf under his belt over four decades. That wears on anyone who plays the game.

The fact is that the golf world simply has to get used to the fact that they’re not going to see Tiger Woods as often as they’d like. Woods openly admits that he physically can’t commit to the schedule he once did, citing his desire to stay in the game a little longer.

“That’s the fun part of trying to figure this whole comeback. How much do I play? When do I play? Do I listen to the body or do I fight through it? There are some things I can push and some things I can’t. And so I had a theory this year that I may play about the same amount. What did I play, 12 times last year, and so that’s kind of my number for the year … just because of the physical toll and I want to stay out here for just a little bit longer.”

Tiger Woods

Even in his prime, Tiger Woods always built his schedule around the major championships. He still has an outside chance to reach Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18. There’s no doubt he wants that 83rd win. Perhaps this is what we have to expect these days.

When could Tiger play next?

Following The Players Championship, there are only three tournaments on the schedule before The Masters. The first is the Valspar Invitational, where Tiger finished second to Paul Casey in 2018. That’s not likely. Woods was just coming back when he played there two years ago and it’s not a tournament he usually plays.

Then there’s the WGC-Match Play event, a tournament Woods has won three times. However, this one doesn’t seem likely if Tiger is truly concerned about his back. In order to win, a player would have to play seven rounds in five days, including two rounds on both Saturday and Sunday. Tiger has played in eight total rounds in 2020. And Tiger doesn’t enter a tournament if he thinks he can’t win.

The last tournament before Augusta is the Valero Texas Open, which Woods hasn’t played in nearly 25 years. And there’s no way he would play the week before a major. So if we do see Tiger anytime soon, it will be at The Masters in early April.

That’s where the golf world will get the real answer. If Tiger Woods misses The Masters, then there’s real trouble.