Tiger Woods Has a Long and Difficult Road Ahead of Him

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

Tiger Woods bows his head on the fourth green during the final round of the Cadillac Championship golf tournament on Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Doral, Fla. Woods made bogey on the hole. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Tiger Woods has withdrawn from the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he is the two-time defending champion, due to what he has described as “back spasms.”

Woods also released a statement Tuesday afternoon through his website, TigerWoods.com,

I personally called Arnold today to tell him that, sadly, I won't be able to play in his tournament this year. I would like to express my regrets to the Orlando fans, the volunteers, the tournament staff and the sponsors for having to miss the event. Unfortunately, my back spasms and the pain haven't subsided.

It's too early to know about the Masters, and I will continue to be evaluated and work closely with my doctors. I feel badly that I won't be able to play in this great tournament this week.

Woods’ back issues became evident last August at The Barclays, but Tim Rosaforte told Golf Central Tuesday night that his sources have stated that Woods’ back pain actually began as far back as the Memorial Tournament in June 2013.

If Rosaforte’s sources are correct, then it would appear as if Woods has been struggling with these back issues for nine months now.

Within that time frame, Woods has also taken several long breaks from the game, some of which have lasted up to six weeks. Yet, these breaks have seemingly done very little to rid Woods of his back pain.

With the start of the Masters now just 22 days away, Woods is facing trouble on two fronts.

First and foremost, there is a major question as to whether Woods will even be able to play at Augusta, and if so, how much will his game be hampered by the back spasms?

Secondly, it is unlikely that Woods will be able to prepare much, if at all, for the Masters while attempting to give his back time to heal before the first major of the season.

Speaking on Golf Channel Tuesday night, Rosaforte also stated that Woods hasn't been seen hitting balls at his home club, the Medalist, in weeks, meaning that it has already been several weeks since Woods has been able to put in some serious practice time. It will likely be at least a couple of more weeks before Woods even begins thinking about preparing for Augusta.

The first 12 years or so of Woods' career were anything but ordinary. He captured 14 major championship titles and won nearly 30 percent of the tournaments he attended.

Woods’ complete and utter domination of the game was like nothing the golf world had ever seen before.

However, what is now ironic is that a player who was anything but ordinary for the first 12 years of his career, is now being taken down by two of the most ordinary ailments in the game of golf—a bad back and a lost putting stroke.

Between 2004 and 2008, Woods finished outside the top 10 in strokes gained-putting just once.

In 2012, Woods ranked 36th on tour in strokes gained-putting, and in 2013, he ranked 22nd.

Although the decline in Woods’ putting stats has accelerated over the past two years, his stroke has been wavering under major championship pressure for more than five years now.

Had Woods been able to sink a few big putts on Sunday, he would have had an excellent chance at winning three out of the last five Masters, the 2009 U.S. Open, the 2009 PGA Championship and the 2012 and 2013 Open Championships.

These are seven major championships since 2009 that Woods has let slip through his hands due in large part to an inability to sink big putts down the stretch.

Aside from his difficulties on the greens in recent years, Woods has also lost a great deal of distance relative to the field since 2004.

Back in 2004, Woods averaged 301.9 yards off the tee and ranked ninth on tour in driving distance. During the 2013 season, Woods averaged 293.2 yards off of the tee and ranked 49th in driving distance, while so far this season Woods has averaged just 287.3 yards off the tee as he has attempted to play through back spasms.

Between 1999 and 2004, Woods averaged 297.23 yards off of the tee. Between 2008 and 2013, Woods averaged 295.46 yards off of the tee. This during a period of time when the average driving distance on tour has increased by 20 yards or 7.41 percent.

This essentially means that Woods has given up 20 yards to his competition since 1999, while also gaining very little in the way of accuracy.

Throughout the first 12 years of his career, Woods won more often than any other player in history, made every big shot he ever needed to make, was a picture of health and fitness and even when he did suffer injuries, as was the case at the 2008 U.S. Open where he played through a stress fracture and a torn ACL, he still demolished his competition on one leg.

But this is different.

Putting problems, a loss of distance, a bad back, etc. all point toward one thing: Woods is an extraordinary golfer that is now dealing with the very ordinary signs of aging.

One thing that history has shown us is that although some golfers are able to hold off Father Time for longer than others, once the signs of aging begin to take hold, very few golfers are ever able to reverse course.

Whether or not Woods can overcome this latest, and perhaps greatest, obstacle in his career and still find a way to win will be the big question moving forward.


Unless otherwise specified, all statistics for this article came from PGATour.com.