Tiger Woods was back in the injury spotlight Sunday, withdrawing from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club with an apparent back problem.
The 38-year-old was playing just his 10th competitive round since returning from surgery on a pinched nerve in his back and was hoping to build momentum ahead of next week’s PGA Championship—but it seems his chances of major success have now been blown out of the water.
The man himself revealed after walking off on the ninth that the problem occurred back on the second hole, where he tried to force his way out of some thick rough, as Golf Channel’s Jason Sobel reported:
Tiger: "Happened on the second hole when I hit my second shot. I fell back into the bunker. Just jarred it. It's been spasming ever since."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 3, 2014
After trudging around and playing some, let’s say, questionable shots, Woods decided enough was enough on the ninth tee and was carted away with a grimace on his face.
This means the 14-time major champion is a big doubt to compete for No. 15 at Valhalla unless he makes a speedy recovery, per Sobel:
Tiger on what this means for the upcoming PGA Championship: "I don't know. Just trying to get out of here."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 3, 2014
While Woods withdrawing from a major previously would have blown the tournament wide open, all it means now is there will be a few fewer people bothering to switch on their televisions next week.
The former world No. 1 hasn’t really threatened to edge closer to Jack Nicklaus’ major haul since problems in his personal life put him momentarily out of the game, and next week would likely have been the same with or without an injury.
Not that he isn’t a phenomenal player—he remains the greatest of our time—but players around him suddenly know how to cope with the Woods factor. Take Rory McIlroy, for example.
The Northern Irishman recorded an impressive wire-to-wire victory in last month’s Open Championship, and with driving accuracy the key to success at Valhalla, he could well be in contention again.
Should Woods withdraw, McIlroy will hog the spotlight in Kentucky, and former English golfer Tony Jacklin believes his primary focus on majors will see him win many more, per James Nursey of the Mirror:
I do believe it is significant he has set out to make majors his goal. I think that singularly is the most important thing—the only other two who have done that are Nicklaus and Tiger. Rory is ahead of the curve. There is no reason on God’s earth why if he stays healthy that he is not going to win another 10. He is certainly capable. He has made this commitment to focus on major championships so the sky is the limit.
He certainly comes into the PGA Championship in the right form to pick up major No. 4 too. He recorded two top-10 finishes in the year’s first three majors, according to ESPN.com.
The 25-year-old will undoubtedly be up there challenging for the title, barring a disastrous reverse of fortunes on the form front. American Rickie Fowler has also performed admirably in the majors so far.
Fowler tied for fifth at the Masters before finishing joint second at both the U.S. Open and The Open Championship, and he remains the only player to finish under par in all three majors in 2014—per Sky Sports Golf:
.@RickieFowlerPGA is the only player to finish under par in ALL 3 Majors so far this year - Total of 18 Under - Rory next best at 11 under— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) July 20, 2014
It’s just crossing the major line that’s become the challenge for the American, but with new coach Butch Harmon working wonders with the 25-year-old’s swing and his course management getting better by the round, Fowler could finally break through at Valhalla.
It would be far from a surprise to see either McIlroy or Fowler lift the famous Wanamaker Trophy next week, but as for Woods, the misery goes on.
Even if he does find a way back from injury to compete, keeping pace with the young guns could prove a task too difficult for Woods.
What he has now, though, is an excuse for incompetence, and based on his showing at recent majors, that’ll certainly be on show should he feature.