What was the hurry, Tiger?
It appears that Tiger Woods' rush to get back into competition may have dire consequences, as he was forced to make an abrupt withdrawal from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
After driving his ball at the ninth hole, Woods winced as he picked up his tee, barely able to fully extend his obviously distressed lower right side. He then called for a cart and left the course.
He had actually hurt his back much earlier in the round.
"It happened on the second hole when I hit my second shot," Woods explained to reporters as he left the course. "I fell back into the bunker, just jarred it. It's been spasming ever since. It's just the whole lower back. I don't know what happened."
With that he may have lost his chance to play in the PGA Championship, be a member of the Ryder Cup team and even perhaps make a full recovery to play competitively for the remainder of the season.
This is the shot that Woods said he aggravated his back on:
There may even be those who write him off for good. There will be naysayers who condemn his quick return from back surgery last March and even say that this most recent problem spells the end of his legendary career.
But we really don't know the extent of the back injury that sent Woods off the course at Firestone. It sure looked pretty serious, as he appeared to be in obvious pain. He was barely able to untie his shoes without wincing.
Yet, couldn't this be but a glitch in his recovery rather than a death knell? Couldn't this be part of the physical rehabilitation process that goes with making a comeback?
Regardless, it's still a setback, as noted by Jason Sobel of GolfChannel.com in his column from Sunday's round:
Woods underwent microdiscectomy surgery on his lower back just over three months ago. This was his third tournament appearance since, following what was essentially a rehab start at the Quicken Loans National and a 69th-place finish at the Open Championship that was disappointing yet still provided reason for optimism.
Recovery from back surgery is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, even a sneeze could reinjure it. So the torque that goes with swinging a golf club must surely be something that could cause renewed issues.
Did Woods come back too soon from his microdiscectomy?
He surely showed no signs of back problems in his previous two events.
At The Open Championship he was actually very confident about his physical health and optimistic about his ability to gradually improve.
Per Ewan Murray of The Guardian: "Early last week, Woods had claimed he was working his way gradually towards full power and fitness. 'I feel really good, I feel energetic,' Woods had said."
Woods seemed genuinely optimistic about his chances of competing in the Ryder Cup, per Murray:
I have always healed fast. The speed is developing. The speed is coming back, I continue to get stronger. I've gotten stronger, but we're just now introducing explosive training, into any regime, which is nice. I'm excited about that.
But those who saw him on the course Sunday say he wasn't himself.
Bubba Watson, his player-partner, told reporters that "he hit some shots that we're not used to seeing him hit, so obviously something was bothering him. You could tell something was going on."
Tiger is not like you or me. He doesn't live by the same rules. He doesn't just play golf, he attacks it. It has always been that way. He only knows one speed, and that is full-bore.
So when he returned to play at the Quicken Loans National under 12 weeks after surgery, he did so with the same fury that has guided his professional career. He didn't make the cut at that tournament and played mediocre at The Open Championship while carding three scores over par.
The WGC-Bridgestone was to be another step forward toward rehabilitation of both his body and his game. Yet, he was three-over par when he injured himself. Despite a first-round effort of 68 that included six birdies, Tiger was unable to create any real momentum in subsequent rounds.
Tiger wasn't just playing for his renewed stature at Firestone Country Club; he was looking to make the Ryder Cup team. If by some miracle he were able to finish in the top three at Firestone and the PGA Championship, he would make the team outright.
It was more likely that if he played well in these two tournaments, that Tom Watson would use a captain's pick to select him to the team. No less than Jack Nicklaus had said that Tiger should be on the team regardless of how he played.
"I couldn't imagine [Woods] not being on a Ryder Cup team, unless he does absolutely nothing in recovering from his game between now and then," Nicklaus said after The Open Championship, via ESPN.com's Bob Harig.
Watson may have been leaning that way but will no doubt be looking elsewhere now. Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson shot a marvelous 62 in his final round at Firestone that should make him a certain selection to the team.
As we await further word from Tiger's camp about the extent of the injury, we don't really know if he will bow out of the PGA Championship.
Based on how he looked at Firestone, almost any onlooker would advise him to pause and go back into physical rehabilitation.
What's the hurry anyway?
Oh, yeah, there's that omnipresent desire to beat Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles. Any 38-year-old with a bad back is going to have trouble getting out of bed let alone making the leap from 14 to 19 titles whether he is named Tiger Woods or not.
And Tiger is facing a crowded field of great young players like the heir apparent Rory McIlroy, world No. 1 Adam Scott and a resurgent Sergio Garcia—not to mention a bunch of guys in their 20s, like Jordan Spieth, who were weaned on Tiger-mania.
As Kelly Tilghman of The Golf Channel states, Woods' primary concern should be on the rest of his career, not the upcoming tournaments:
He should put all of his attention on prepping for 2015 because, in reality, anything he does well this year may not mean much in the grand scheme of things. With the increased competition, he should not just be feeling better but playing at the top of his game.
Forget about the PGA Championship. Forget about the Ryder Cup. Forget about breaking the major titles record. For now.
Instead, Woods must concentrate on getting healthy, strengthening his back and preparing for the 2015 season.