What Does Tiger Woods' Back Injury Mean for His 2014 Season?

Mike DudurichContributor IMarch 3, 2014

Getty Images

Even before Tiger Woods withdrew from the Honda Classic on his back nine Sunday afternoon, my view of his 2014 season was not all that cheery.

Yes, he was coming off a five-win season in 2013, and yes, his main goal during the offseason was to rest that 38-year-old body so that he'd be ready for the rigors of 16 to 18 tournaments he'd most likely play in 2014.

How's that working for him?

With this incident Sunday, he's now been hit by lower-back pain. You may remember last summer at the Barclays, where Woods was suffering from such bad spasms to the point that he fell to his knees in pain after one particular shot.

He was able to limp home and finish second there, but he was troubled by it during the final three FedEx Cup playoff events.

We're now looking at the two most recognizable names in golf, Woods and Phil Mickelson, as guys who could disappear from a tournament in a heartbeat if a spasm flares in their backs. And while much is expected of both, it figures to be problematic for either of them in 2014.

Woods, of course, continues his quest to win four more major championships to tie Jack Nicklaus at 18. This was thought to be a good year for him to perhaps pick up a couple of major titles, based on his bounce-back 2013 season and the success he's had at this year's major venues.

But his play has been abysmal by his standards, and now that there's a back issue this early in the year, those kinds of predictions have to be reassessed.

Golf fans and the media have this misconception that because Woods is credited with bringing fitness back to the PGA Tour, his above-average physique has made him bulletproof.

That's not the case at all. The reality is that he's been injured a lot, as chronicled in a Golf Channel piece updated Sunday after the latest injury.

As a matter of fact, according to PGATour.com, Sunday's withdrawal was the seventh in his career and, more to the point, the fourth in the last five years.

I'm not bullish on Tiger '14. Consider these things: He just turned 38 in December, and while that hardly qualifies him for Social Security payments, there are a lot of miles and wear and tear on that 38-year-old body.

Take away what happened Sunday afternoon. How many of the tournaments in which Woods normally plays would you rate him the favorite? I honestly can't think of any.

And I'm not saying he's donenot at all. But on top of everything else Woods has been forced to deal with, now there are the more persistent back issues. Once he gets this one settled, he could proceed nicely for a while with no problems.

But when will they strike again? Nobody knows, and that's what makes him an iffy pick for the rest of the season.

A prime example? Woods shot his best round in 18 months in Saturday's third round of the Honda Classic, a 65 that moved him to the edge of contention. When he started hitting the ball on the practice range, trouble with his back started.

For a guy who plays a limited schedule on his own accord, he needs to find ways to gain traction in his season. Leading up to the Masters, he likes to play two or three of the Florida swing events.

His participation in next week's World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at the new-look Doral course seems to be doubtful at best. He has a decision to make, even if he gets treatment and feels a bit better by Thursday.

Does he play because he's the defending champion, as well as to get some work in before the fast-approaching Masters?

Forcing himself to participate could result in swinging defensively to limit further damage. And who knows what kind of long-term impact that might have on Woods' swing, the one he and coach Sean Foley have reconstructed.

It's going to be very interesting to see whether this setback will be an obstruction in his road back to being the undisputed best player in the world, one who is a threat to win every major championship. Nicklaus' total of 18 has always been his ultimate quest in golf.

Waking up every morning wondering if there's a spasm in your future for that day or that round is no way to make a run at golf's all-time record.

Mark me down as one who believes 2014 is going to be a a tough grind for Woods. Forget about five wins. A couple more first-time major winners are ready to stake their claim.

Time moves on, but if Woods is able to get his back under control, he will have a chance to be an elite player. However, that will all depend on whether he can get his game under control, too.