Rude: Shell of former self, time for Tiger to shut it down

Tiger Woods grimaced quite a bit on Friday, fighting through a back injury that contributed to a 3-over 74 on Friday at the PGA Championship.

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – For a while Friday at the PGA Championship, watching Tiger Woods felt like viewing a funeral procession. As he went 4 over on the first seven holes, his game and body hardly seemed alive and his mood was stuck on somber. At other times, it seemed as if we were observing an aging, beat-up heavyweight boxing champion.

Pick your analogy. When he hit wild hooks on Nos. 6-7 at Valhalla Golf Club and made double bogey and bogey, an old Willie Mays with the New York Mets came to mind.

Clearly Woods was bothered by a sore back that underwent a March 31 microdiscectomy and forced his withdrawal Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Often he bent over and walked gingerly. He grimaced some. He held his lower right back some. One broadcaster said Woods looked like someone having difficulty breathing.

Woods said his sore back “went out” when he hit a 4-iron on the range pre-round and he felt the “same pain and same spasms” as Sunday when he said his sacrum was dislodged. But he decided to play through the problem, adding, “I’m not exactly a non-stubborn person.”

Hence, the swing problems.

“I couldn’t make a backswing,” Woods said. “I can’t get the club back. I can’t get anywhere near the positions that I’m accustomed to getting to. I’ve got to rely on timing.”

People wondered if he would walk off at the turn for the second consecutive week. Would the cap come off? With rain starting to fall, would he say goodbye to fellow multiple major champions Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington near the clubhouse?

He did not. Rather, Woods got better as the round went on, playing the last 11 holes in 1 under. He made several good swings coming in, as if he were freed up. Still, that wasn’t enough for the 14-time major champion to come close to making the 1-over cut.

“I tried as hard as I could,” he said. “That’s about all I got.”

His 6-over 74-74—148 meant he now has missed four cuts in 66 major championships as a professional. He also failed to qualify for major weekends at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry and 2011 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Beware the ailing golfer? Not this time on a hilly golf course that presents many uneven lies not conducive for a bad back.

The back issues make it difficult to analyze the state of Woods’ game. Clearly he needs time to recover from the surgery and the “sacrum” issue.

“I need to get stronger,” he said. “I need to get my glutes strong again, my abs and my core back to where I used to have them. … You can’t develop strength the same time as you are playing a lot. I need to get back in the gym and get stronger.”

His swing is shorter because of the surgery and his timing has been off. His driving and putting aren’t as good as they once were. He has been a shell of himself in the four tournaments he has played since the operation.

Clearly he’s not ready. He hasn’t had a Tour top-10 finish since last August. He won’t make the FedEx Cup playoffs in another lost season. He’s in no condition to represent the United States in the Ryder Cup. At this point, he should take the heat off captain Tom Watson and remove himself from consideration as one of the three picks.

More questions than answers surround him. Should he shut it down for multiple months? (It seems obvious that he should take a break and heal, physically and mentally.) Are two back issues worse than one? (Would seem so.) When will he play next? (He says he’s not sure.) When will we again see a semblance of the man who has won 79 PGA Tour titles? (Who knows?)

Things went so badly for him Friday that the public-address announcer on the ninth green mistakenly pronounced his hometown of Hobe Sound, Fla., as Ho-bee Sound.

But that was nothing compared with his problems earlier on the front. After saving pars on the first two holes, he hit a brilliant iron shot on the par-3 third but then power-lipped a 4 1/2-footer off the left edge. Then he missed a 6-footer for par at the next. He also 3-putted from 18 feet at the sixth, missing a 3 1/2-foot comebacker. Then he flubbed a chip at the par-5 seventh.

“(That) just takes a lot of your energy away,” playing competitor Phil Mickelson said. “Had those putts gone in, it could have been a whole different day. I didn’t notice him hurting, but it’s never fun when the ball is not going in the hole.”

In the 2000 PGA at Valhalla, Woods played with Jack Nicklaus. It was widely viewed as a passing-the-torch moment when they finished. We might have something similar happening this time.

Three-time major winner Rory McIlroy is leading. Woods left town after tying for 117th, 15 strokes behind. Anybody got a match?

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