Injury Woes Only Complicating Tiger Woods' Major Drought

James McMahonContributor IJune 20, 2013

Tiger Woods is hurt again, and as a result, so are his chances to finally end a major championship winless streak at the 2013 Open Championship, July 18-21.

It’s another bitter tale of been there, done that for Woods, who has struggled with injuries multiple times since he last won a major five years ago.

Tiger announced on Wednesday that a sprained elbow that dates back to early May and adversely affected his performance at last week’s U.S. Open will force him out of his own PGA Tour event—the AT&T National at Congressional—for the third time since the tournament began in 2007.

"I was examined after I returned home from the U.S. Open, and the doctors determined I have a left elbow strain," Woods said on his website. "I have been advised to take a few weeks off, rest and undergo treatment. I'll be ready to go for the British Open, and I'm looking forward to playing at Muirfield."

While Woods vows to be ready for The Open, the possibility exists that the world’s top-ranked golfer could miss a third British Open in the past five years, and a fifth major championship overall since he last won one at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

At the very least, Tiger will have been off for just over a month before teeing it up at Muirfield. Considering his poor performances in his past two outings, the layoff doesn't necessarily bode well for the world’s top player, who is desperate to end an extended losing streak in major championships and ultimately better Jack Nicklaus’ career record of 18 major victories.

After winning that career 14th major at Torrey Pines, Tiger underwent surgery for an ACL tear that robbed him of both the 2008 British Open and PGA Championship. In 2011, an Achilles injury he aggravated at The Players Championship knocked him out of the U.S. Open and the British Open later that summer.

Now, apparently, it’s round three for Tiger.

Prior to his elbow injury in early May, Woods was playing some of the finest golf of his career. He won four times on the PGA Tour before the calendar turned to June, and he threatened late in a major for the first time since 2009 at Augusta National.

Yet since tweaking that elbow en route to winning at TPC Sawgrass, Woods played the worst nine holes of his professional career during the third round of the Memorial Tournament in early June, and then followed two weeks later with his worst-ever performance in a major championship as a professional at Merion Golf Club, finishing 13-over par.

There’s little doubt that the Tiger we saw winning the The Players Championship paled in comparison to the version witnessed in his past two starts. If injury is the root of the rotten play, there’s cause for concern that Tiger won't be able to turn this around quickly.

It’s a troubling pattern of injury hampering progress that has to be wearing thin for Woods, who is now a banged-up 37-year-old who sits just as far back from Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships as he did as a 32-year-old star still slightly shy of his prime years. Health isn't the only reason for that troubling reality, but it’s clearly a significant one.

After the torn ACL forced Woods to shut it down in June 2008 and miss two majors, it wasn't until the 2009 PGA Championship that Tiger challenged for another title. That event, however, was also the only time he lost a major when leading after 54 holes.

The 2011 Achilles injury ruled Woods out of the U.S. Open at Congressional and the Open Championship at Royal St. George's. Since that extended time off, Tiger hasn't challenged late into majors until this past April at Augusta National, where he ultimately finished in a tie for fourth.

Bottom line is Woods’ dominance has always been built on two significant factors: his immense talent and his significant mental fortitude. The X-factor to how great Woods would ultimately be has always been his health and ability to avoid injury as he moved into the back-end of his professional career that began back in 1996.

In the early part of Tiger’s career, that concern was a non-factor. In the past five years, however, it’s become a considerable detriment to his ultimate goal of winning enough majors to be considered the greatest golfer ever.

The absolute story on Woods' career is yet to be written, but with each physical setback there’s no question that injury will absolutely be an issue in just how much of Tiger’s greatness will be left unfulfilled.

Woods is never one to make excuses for poor play, so we really don’t know how much the elbow cost him at the U.S. Open, but there were clear signs that it was bothering him. The decision to shut it down makes sense, and it gives Woods the best opportunity for a breakthrough win at Muirfield.

That said, injury is forcing Woods to shake things up prior to a major championship yet again, and that has not worked out well for him in the past.

How it turns out this time, and whether or not Woods is finally destined for a change of major fortune, will depend significantly on just how strong he can get that worrisome elbow.