ORLANDO – At 2:24 p.m. ET on Monday, the golf world shook.
Tiger Woods, who came to own the Arnold Palmer Invitational with his dominance starting in 2000, announced via Twitter he was withdrawing from this week’s tournament at Bay Hill Club & Lodge due to a neck strain.
While there was some comfort to latch onto – he wrote his surgically repaired lower back is fine and there are no-long term issues – this is a 43-year-old Tiger with a history of serious operations on his left knee and spine we’re talking about.
Four procedures to his left knee. Four to his back, the most recent a spinal fusion surgery in April 2017. And there was an assortment of other injuries he had to deal with over the years to his neck, Achilles, elbow, wrist.
Despite his reassurances, the world of golf will hold its collective breath until he’s seen again, possibly in less than 10 days at The Players, the PGA Tour’s flagship event.
“Unfortunately, due to a neck strain that I’ve had for a few weeks, I’m forced to withdraw from the API,” Woods wrote. “I’ve been receiving treatment, but it hasn’t improved enough to play. My lower back is fine, and I have no long-term concerns, and I hope to be ready for The Players.”
Woods went on to write he would send his regrets to the Palmer family and the fans in Orlando, writing it is one of his favorite tournaments.
There was a lot to digest in the two tweets he sent out, especially where he wrote he’s been dealing with the neck strain for “a few weeks” and has been receiving treatment. While he wrote his back is fine, this is not a good sign.
In his last start two weeks ago in the WGC-Mexico Championship in Mexico City, where he tied for 10th, there was no visible indication his neck was bothering him nor was there any verbal sign (Woods refused to speak to the media after the final two rounds).
Just as concerning is Woods’ rhythm. The best player of his generation has long talked about finding a rhythm to the season, especially heading into major championships. It’s a certain cadence he covets, a preferred pace to his play, a repetitive feel for the club and his swing he desires.
While the Masters is six weeks down Magnolia’s Road, there now is concern with this withdrawal that the four-time Masters champion could be off tempo by the time he sees the emerald fairways, the white cottages and the Georgia Pines.
The world’s No. 12-ranked player has played just three times this year. In his second start, the Genesis Open in Los Angeles became a disjointed affair due to chilly, rain-delaying weather and Woods didn’t play on Thursday, logged 30 holes on Friday, 14 on Saturday and 28 on Sunday.
The following week, he struggled with the thin air at the Mexico Championship – the course rests 7,800 feet above sea level – so little rhythm was built upon.
And now he doesn’t get to play a tournament he’s won a record eight times and used as the optimal tune-up for the Masters.
Woods has built up confidence at Arnie’s Florida base from the first time, as a skinny lad all of 15 years old, he first met Palmer a few days ahead of the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur at Bay Hill.
Woods won the U.S. Junior Amateur that year. In 2000, he won for the first time at Arnie’s annual bash, then won again in 2001-03, 2008-09 and 2012-13, each victory punctuated with a hearty handshake and empathic pats on the back from the man 47 years his senior.
Now, instead of dialing in his swing and rhythm, Woods will be receiving treatment and trying to get ready for The Players. Without his tune-up at Bay Hill, Woods has only four events to play before the Masters – The Players, the Valspar Championship, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, and the Valero Texas Open.
Woods has never played the week before the Masters, so Valero is likely out. He also rarely plays three events in succession, so, if he does play The Players, one of the other two would be out.
That’s not the schedule Woods was eying earlier this year in his runup to the Masters. In his mind, there was certain beat he wanted to follow. But a neck strain has sent him off key.