ORLANDO – Paul Azinger was riding his motorcycle on a beach Monday when his pleasant drive came to a sudden halt.
He had gotten word Tiger Woods had withdrawn from this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, citing a neck strain. Azinger’s journey back home wasn’t pleasing.
“His neck issue, that’s a serious issue I feel,” Azinger said Friday at Bay Hill. “Because if your neck doesn’t flow the way you want, that’s trouble.”
Woods is on the commitment list for next week’s Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event in northeast Florida. Woods has not declared if he’ll play and reserves the right to withdraw up to his tee time in the first round.
Earlier this week, Rory McIlroy said he saw Woods receiving treatment before and after each round at the WGC-Mexico Championship three weeks ago and added that Woods was wearing KT Tape on his upper back. Azinger, the lead analyst for NBC and Golf Channel, said he thought Woods was protecting some discomfort during the Mexico Championship where he tied for 10th.
“It looked like the whole (swing motion) wasn’t all going together. You could see he was trying to save his swing, and it could have been that his neck wasn’t right,” Azinger said. “You get in there and your head’s in a spot and you rotate up and he looked like he was (protecting himself). You can’t play with that.
“I’m hoping he just didn’t want to take a chance, and that it’s not something serious. We’ll know pretty quickly if he shows up (at The Players). We’ll know pretty quickly how serious it is. We’ll just hold our breath and hope he gets out there and plays.”
Azinger said there is no question Woods wants to play. The only question is if he can play given his history of injuries.
“I just feel like in his head, if he can’t get after it full gear, he’ll stop,” Azinger said. “He doesn’t have to play. He wants to play and there’s a big difference. As long as he wants to play, he’s going to do everything he can to get back.
“Sadly, you’ve got the most fit player who ever played and he’s kind of relying on an unfit body. How did that happen? It happened. Nobody looked better than him, nobody was as fit as him and holy cow the next thing you know he’s getting hurt.
“I’m all about being fit but it’s no guarantee for longevity.”
Like the majority of fans, Azinger doesn’t want to see a golf world without Woods. He doesn’t want to see The Players without Woods. The game will go on, Azinger said, but it won’t be the same without the winner of 80 PGA Tour titles including 14 majors.
“He’s the most interesting guy by far who plays the game,” Azinger said. “The Tour is a two-pony show. Tiger is one pony and the rest are the other pony. Not to take anything away from those guys; they’d probably admit it, too.
“I think he’s a living, breathing, walking miracle. And whoever did his surgery, I don’t know, that surgery should have a name like Tommy John surgery. Because if you play with a fused back, that’s off the charts.
“It’s impossible to be the next Tiger. There is never going to be anything like that. I don’t think there is a next anybody coming. I think we should really appreciate what we’ve got to see and what’s sticking around because that window now is getting really small.”