I’ll preface all of what I’m about to write by saying back injuries are no joke, as evidenced countless times in every sport with a wide range of athletes. Tiger Woods is working his way back to full strength after back surgery earlier this year, and this past weekend’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational was only the third event he has played since returning to action.
Woods withdrew on Sunday after hitting a tee shot on the ninth hole, and he later said he originally jarred his back on the second hole when he hit his second shot and fell back into a bunker that was behind him. While he deserves some credit for playing through the issue for essentially seven holes, if Woods was in contention and not sitting at 4-over par it’s worth wondering if he would have played through the injury. Rory McIlroy won the event at -15, so even in a best-case scenario Woods would not have been a factor on the back-nine.
Woods has won 14 majors in his career, and it looks likely he will go another year without a major victory. The last major Woods won was the 2008 U.S. Open, when he played on a left knee that later needed reconstructive surgery. Since then personal issues and more physical breakdowns have contributed to his decline, and other players no longer live in fear of Woods as they did during his prime.
All 14 of Woods’ major wins have come when he at least shared the lead going into the final round, with only one loss (the 2009 PGA Championship) in that scenario and 24 top-3 finishes in 65 career majors as a professional. By comparison, Jack Nicklaus had 46 top-3 major finishes in his career, including a record 18 wins and 19 runner-up finishes.
Mark Steinberg, Woods’ agent, suggested he has not been ruled out of this week’s PGA Championship, and Robert Lusetich of Fox Sports has passed on speculation that Woods’ caddie is scouting Valhalla, the site of the tournament. That may be an indicator that Woods himself is in town, and has plans to try to play, which only casts further doubt on the severity of his injury and the subsequent decision to withdraw on Sunday.
Woods’ record as an all-time great golfer is untarnished, no matter what happens from here in his career. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be labeled a front runner that has trouble handling adversity on the course, now or in the past, and Sunday’s decision to withdraw showed us his true colors yet again if he is able to play when the the year’s final major starts on Thursday.