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Pain In The Neck: Tiger Is Not Out Of The Woods Yet

As every golf fan knows, the world tingles when Tiger Woods strides down the 18th fairway of the final round in contention to win another championship. It’s a scene we’ve seen 80 times in his career.

No professional attracts more interest, especially in front to a television, than Woods does. When he’s playing well, it’s not unusual for whatever network carrying the event to show every stroke he takes because they know that’s what the people want.

That interest has only intensified over the last few years when injuries have plagued Woods and trimmed his schedule. His tournaments have been few and far between. So when he plays, everyone is aware of it.

It was with disappointment that we heard on Monday that Woods would not be playing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club & Lodge because of a neck strain. There are few events outside of the majors that he loves to play more.

Whenever Woods appears to be injured, we’re now accustomed to expect the worst. He has suffered from back, knee, neck, elbow and wrist injuries over the last few years and they’ve conspired to short-circuit one of the greatest careers in the game’s history.

What’s more, Woods is now 43, young in life, ancient as an athlete. And his already banged-up body just isn’t capable of bouncing back as efficiently as he did when he was younger.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - FEBRUARY 24: Tiger Woods of the United States plays his shot from the first tee during the final round of World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec on February 24, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

If there was anything to feel good about regarding Monday’s announcement, it was that Woods said the neck injury had nothing to do with his back and he does not anticipate long-term impact. But the injury was obviously significant enough to convince him he wouldn’t be able to deal with Bay Hill.

Woods has had four back surgeries, the most recent a spinal fusion in April 2017. And when he’s tried to come back from things, it hasn’t always been with success. He has struggled to regain his form, rediscover his growl.

Still, since the surgery Woods has never backed out of a tournament he was scheduled to appear at. After playing in 24 events over the previous four years he played 18 times in 2018 and won the Tour Championship for his 80th PGA title. He also played in the Ryder Cup.

We imagine the truth about this injury will emerge when he decides if he can play in next weekend at The Players, one of the game’s premier events. And in six weeks, The Masters will roll along.

“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 did not play in last week’s Honda Classic, which is located in his hometown of Jupiter, Fla. Two weeks ago, he finished tied for 10th at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

If you take him at his word, and he has been dealing with neck issues for weeks, and it hasn’t gotten any better, you have to wonder how debilitating this will be once the Tour ends its Florida swing.

It makes sense if he doesn’t get back on the course quickly and plays in a few tournaments he won’t be much of a force at The Masters, the tournament he loves above all others and has won eight times. Woods has won 14 majors in his career.

There isn’t much time left to literally get back into the swing. After the API, only The Players, the Valspar Championship, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, and the Valero Texas Open remain before everyone heads to Augusta. Woods has never played the weeks before The Masters before, but that might have to change.

Woods has rebuilt his career enough to be ranked No. 12 in the world. But he has played only three times has played just three times this year. And none of his starts have been particularly eventful.