Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.
ORLANDO, Fla. – Tiger Woods can be ready for the Masters (April 10-13) with the proper treatment on his spasming back, Dr. Alfred O. Bonati, founder of the Bonati Spine Institute in Hudson, Fla., said Wednesday.
“Absolutely he can,” said Bonati, a spine laser surgeon who says he did a facet-joint procedure on late Hall of Famer Severiano Ballesteros a couple of weeks before the Masters years ago. “If I put my hands on him and see what he has, I’d get him ready for the Masters.”
Both Bonati and PGA Tour physical therapist Corey Hug said back spasms can be caused by a herniated disk or facet joint irritation. Both said recovery from a herniated disk can take longer and, Bonati said, there are different levels of herniation.
Both spoke in general terms because they haven’t examined Woods and don’t know what the source of his problem is. Woods, routinely private about injuries, hasn’t identified the diagnosis publicly other than citing spasms.
Asked if Woods could properly treat a herniated disk without surgery, Bonati said, “They can throw holy water on him.” He said therapy would likely bring temporary relief because of the kind of rigorous exercise Woods does. “And in a couple of months he’d be back with the same thing,” Bonati said.
Hug, with the Tour’s Visionworks Sports Medicine group, said back muscles spasm “in response to pain stimulus.”
Asked what a time frame for Woods’ recovery might be, Hug said, “That’s the million-dollar question. Or maybe $2-million question. If a disk is pressing on a nerve, that could take longer.”
• All we know for sure is this: Woods’ last two Sunday rounds on Tour have been sabotaged by back problems, he decided to skip a tournament (Arnold Palmer Invitational) he has won eight times and this is not ideal preparation for the Masters.
Palmer, the tournament host, said he appreciated Woods calling him and “trying like hell to come here.” Palmer said Woods needs to take time off to get ready for the Masters, adding, “If I were in that position, I’d be doing much the same.”
Woods’ game wasn’t consistently sharp before his back ached at the recent Honda Classic, where he withdrew after 13 holes of the fourth round. His last victory was Aug. 4, at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. In his eight Tour starts since, he has only one top-10 finish, a second at The Barclays.
He has had trouble putting four consecutive rounds together. Besides the back, that inconsistency and stronger fields are obstacles to his winning more. And as a player gets older, desire can wane, though Woods has said recently that’s not a problem.
• Which brings us to Masters rookies for 2014. Since the inaugural invitational in 1934, only one first-time Masters contestant (Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979) has won. But no one should be surprised if an Augusta rookie wins this year.
The 2014 newcomer class is stronger than zoo dirt: Jordan Spieth, Harris English, Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker, Graham DeLaet, Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel for starters. That prompts defending champion Adam Scott to say, “If they play well, they should think they can win.”
Reed, 23 and a three-time winner over his last 14 Tour starts, said as much.
“Whether it’s a veteran or a rookie … whoever is the most comfortable that week and has the most control with their golf ball and is putting well is going off with a victory,” Reed said. “We (kids) grew up watching the great players and Tiger … and we want to basically play the game how he’s done it and the dominant fashion that he’s done.”
• What effect will it have on golf if Woods is out for a long period? Arnold Palmer didn’t sound too concerned. “There will be someone else (dominant),” he said.
There always is.
• Reed says he has no intention to change his Sunday wardrobe. He has emulated Woods for years by wearing a red shirt and black pants on Sundays.
“I know he owns those colors, but they are working for me,” Reed said. “I’m superstitious and I’ll stick with what’s working.”
• Nothing new, Palmer says he wants to slow down the ball and speed up play. His hope for the ball might be more realistic. As Palmer said, “What are you going to tell a guy who is a slow thinker, that you’ve got to start thinking faster?”
• Adam Scott’s green jacket has traveled all over the world since he won the 2013 Masters. The feedback he gets is interesting.
“It always gets an incredible reaction if there are golfers in the room,” Scott said. “If they’re not golfers, they wonder why I’m wearing a very bright green jacket.”