Tiger Woods' Bulging Disk Sets Him Up for More Masters Drama

Alex EspinozaCorrespondent IIIMarch 21, 2014

Tiger Woods wipes his face before teeing off on the 12th hole during the final round of the Cadillac Championship golf tournament Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Doral, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

You can hear broadcaster Jim Nantz's voice already, "It's a tradition unlike any other ..."

For sure, the Masters is the cream of the crop when it comes to PGA Tour majors. The spectacular setting of Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia hosts the prestigious annual event every April, and the 2014 tournament buzz is all about Tiger Woods.

Over the past two decades, no golfer has played a more central role in the Masters. He took the world by storm in 1997 as a 22-year-old, recording a ridiculous minus-18 to win by 12 strokes. But now he's 38, and his body is starting to betray him as he prepares for the Masters once again.

According to Jeff Rude of GolfWeek, Woods is suffering from a bulging disk in his back.

Tiger Woods has been diagnosed with a bulging back disk and won’t need surgery, someone with knowledge of his condition said Thursday.

It could have been much worse, the person said, because Woods doesn’t have the kind of herniated disk that likely would require an operation.

For weeks now, there has been speculation on Woods' health, as he grimaced his way through two Sunday rounds at the Honda Classic and WGC-Cadillac Championship. It was clear that something was wrong with his back, but Woods merely deemed them "spasms" as he tried to fight through the pain.

When healthy, Woods can still be a dominant force on the tour. Check out highlights of his third-round 66 at the WGC-Cadillac event at Doral earlier this month.

With Rude's report, we have something of a middle-ground diagnosis for Woods.

It's not a temporary bout with spasms, but an issue that will likely linger throughout the 2014 season and beyond. At least he won't be taken out of competition immediately via surgery with the way things stand now.

But with Augusta on the horizon, Woods bowed out of this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, posting a statement on his official site for media and fans.

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.

Despite what Tiger says, I don't think it's too early to know if he'll be playing at Augusta. Tiger will be there. Bank on it.

He's never missed a Masters since his smashing debut 17 years ago. With the event taking place on April 10-13, sitting out the Arnold Palmer gives Woods more than three weeks to get his body right.

By mentioning the Masters unprompted in his statement, it's clear that Woods has an eye on the green jacket already. 

Woods and drama go hand-in-hand at this point of his career, and it would be very Tiger if he was to grimace his way to a Majors victory, a la his 2008 U.S. Open playoff victory over Rocco Mediate on one knee.

Of course, winning another green jacket is the best-case scenario for Tiger. Worst case, he can't compete or suffers debilitating pain.

Say he does win, how long can he keep it up? Can he catch Jack Nicklaus (18) with four more major titles before he's done for good?

It looks doubtful for Tiger at this point. With the amount of pain he's been dealing with the past few weeks, and the recent diagnosis, it doesn't seem like this is a problem that will be going away any time soon. Not to mention the landscape of golf has changed since the start of his career, with the level of competition on the rise globally.

Palmer, for one, told John Holmes of PGA.com, "I don't think 38 years (Woods' age) is the ultimate stopping point for his quest to do what Jack did. I think it lessens the possibility of that happening. … It's going to be tough to keep the concentration and the type of the game that is necessary to win majors."

Love him or hate him, Woods will be in the center of the media firestorm once practice begins on April 7 in Augusta.

While there may be some doubt cast on his availability for the Masters, this is Tiger Woods we're talking about. It just wouldn't be the same without him.