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Tiger Woods' Injury Woes Make Him Non-Factor as 2015 Masters Approaches

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2015

LA JOLLA, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  Tiger Woods leaves the course after withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open due to injury at Torrey Pines Golf Course on February 5, 2015 in La Jolla, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Tiger Woods has seemingly built a second home at the Augusta National Golf Club over the span of nearly two decades. However, given all of the problems plaguing both his body and his golf game at the moment, the 39-year-old doesn't need to leave any space in his closet for a fifth green jacket.

Woods was last seen on a golf course withdrawing with a back injury from the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open.

"It just never loosened back up again," he said of his back after a fog delay disrupted his pre-round preparations, per ESPN.com's Bob Harig. "And when we went back out, it just got progressively tighter."

Woods had just returned at December's Hero World Challenge after taking a prolonged break from golf to nurse his body back to health. The fact that the problem is already arising again isn't exactly an encouraging sign with the Masters a little over two months away.

It's not like the 14-time major champion had been pulling up any trees even before Thursday. He finished 17th at the Hero World Challenge and missed the cut altogether at the Phoenix Open after registering the worst single-round score of his illustrious career, per Ryan Burr of the Golf Channel:

Ryan Burr @RyanBurr

Tiger Woods: 82 is worst career score on PGA TOUR as professional 1,109th PGA TOUR round as professional; 2nd of 80 or worse

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As a result of his hiatus and subsequent struggles, Woods has fallen out of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. His decline has been swift and unyielding:

Golf Central @GolfCentral

Outside the top 50 in the OWGR, Tiger Woods is on the bubble for the @CadillacChamp - http://t.co/hxFufeYGtK http://t.co/cEYHMEZyy6

Given all of the injuries Woods has suffered over the last five or so years, almost nobody expects to see the "Old Tiger" ever again. And it seems that only now are fans truly coming to grips with the fact that one of the most dominant athletes of his era is a shell of his former self.

Admittedly, Woods' 2015 season offers an extremely small sample size, but the early returns aren't promising. Before Thursday's withdrawal, Woods boasted a 46.43 percent driving accuracy and was hitting just 50 percent of his greens in regulation, according to PGA.com.

Making matters worse, his short game is a complete mess. Check out this chip from the 10th hole at Torrey Pines yesterday.

That shot doesn't look to be the result of any back injury. That's simply a golfer woefully out of form and with no idea how to get things back on track.

In two tweets, Hank Haney summed up everything that is wrong with Woods and why things won't get better anytime soon:

Hank Haney @HankHaney

Bad back, driver and short game issues, lack of practice, the combo platter @nschleicher86: we need ur honest opinion, what is up with TW?

Hank Haney @HankHaney

His golf swing that keeps hurting his back @PresidentWilko: what would be the one thing you would change in Tigers game?”

The Masters might feel like a long way away, but it's really not. Woods doesn't have a ton of time to solve a multitude of different problems.

Golf.com's Cameron Morfit is already speculating whether Woods will play in the tournament at all and what his outlook is for 2015 as a whole:

Woods will not win the Masters in nine weeks; that much is obvious. I wonder if he'll even play in it. Even if his back is magically healed, his short game is a far cry from what it needs to be to score at Augusta National, and no one knows that better than Woods himself. Why play if you can’t win?

The bigger question is how much Woods will play the rest of this year, because we've suddenly reverted to 2014, and 2013, and 2012, the press dutifully standing by as Woods cuts out early amid a word cloud full of 'reps' and 'protocols' and 'old motor patterns' and 'misfiring glutes.'

On one hand, taking another year off might actually be better for Woods. Of course, some of his problems are due to rust, but it feels like the more he plays at the moment, the deeper into the quicksand he sinks.

It's probably premature to write Woods off completely as a threat to win another major at some point down the line. His future looks bleak for now, but a lot can change in a few years. Even if the clock is ticking, 39 isn't really that old, relative to the sport and how long top stars can keep going.

For now, Woods has a long way to go before he's back to the level needed to conquer the Masters or any other major tournament.

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