Tiger Woods isn’t a quitter, but he’s done
By Stephanie Wei under European Tour

Pardon the absence and the late take, but caught a bad virus a few days ago and I’ve been laid up — the only positive part of all this is that I have been unable to follow the ongoing national (and global) reality horror show since Wednesday. (So I might as well just blame my illness on our almighty leader President Trump.)

But I digress: Tiger Woods shot a five-over 77 in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic. He made five bogeys and zero birdies at Emirates GC, and most disturbingly, he appeared to be in agony throughout this effort on Thursday.

Perhaps assuming the public reaction (or outcry) had he cited back pain, Woods denied what seemed painfully obvious.

“No, I wasn’t in pain at all,” said Woods on Thursday after his round when asked if he was bothered by his back. “I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn’t doing a very good job. At the end I finally hit some good ones but damage had already been done. On top of that, I could have hung in there, I could have shot something near even par if I would have made some putts, but I made nothing.”

Woods, of course, withdrew Friday morning before his afternoon tee time (which would’ve likely been pushed back to Saturday because of severe weather in Dubai and he also probably wouldn’t have made the cut) because of a back spasm. His agent Mark Steinberg denied this latest setback had anything to do with his previous injuries.

“Tiger Woods went into a spasm in his lower back fairly late last night, got treatment done early this morning for three and a half hours, but can’t get it out,” said Steinberg at Emirates GC on Friday. “He says it’s not the nerve, but back spasm, and he can’t get the spasms to calm down. He can move around, but he can’t make a full rotation in his swing.”

From ESPN.com’s Bob Harig:

[Steinberg] called it a “short-term prognosis” and hopes that “he’ll be strong based on the fact it’s not nerve pain.”

Steinberg said the hope is that Woods can still play in the Genesis Open — which benefits Woods’ foundation — at Riviera Country Club in two weeks.

“Spasms are a funny thing; I’m certainly no doctor, but they come and go,” Steinberg said. “And again, the fact that he feels as though it’s not the nerve pain, that’s very encouraging for him.

“He’s had spasms before. He’s got to get the spasm to calm down, from what I gather. He has his trainer here, which is good, and that’s who has been working on him for the past several hours.”

Steinberg would not disclose the trainer’s name, but he has been with Woods at each of his tournament starts and is based in South Florida, near Woods’ home.

“[Woods] talked to you guys when he got off the course yesterday, and said no pain. Just not great play,” Steinberg said. “And I saw him before he went to dinner last night, no pain. And it’s just one of those things where it just happened. I’m not aware of anything last week, at all, or yesterday during the round.”

I call BS on all levels. First, let’s address the fact that Woods claimed he didn’t play in pain on Thursday. Ok, look, I get it. He didn’t want to start a huge fuss or be accused of “excuses.” Back pain is a very real thing. I will defend any golfer (or person) to the death that has endured any type of back injury. Back problems/pain can be downright debilitating. For not just golfers given that so much of the swing relies on a healthy back but also for regular human beings, back injuries are an absolute nightmare. The incapacitating pain that can result from back problems is also something that’s extremely difficult to discuss or openly talk about with those who have never dealt with back injuries and/or anything that prevents you from normal life, let alone playing competitive golf.

So, this might be one of the only cases where I understand why Woods answered with an alternative fact. I guess he sees it as the lesser of two evils when it comes to the backlash he’d receive in the press and public if he had simply said his back was bothering him. I’d really be surprised if his back hadn’t bothered him after flying across the planet — even those first-class private cabins on Emirates Air can’t prevent the inevitable pain that comes along with flight travel of any length. Then there’s jet lag and it’s not like Woods sleeps well, to begin with. I outlined all these issues on Tuesday.

But Woods isn’t a quitter. Despite likely going through hell and back and working his tail off to rehab not just in the past several years but throughout his career, he’s not ready to simply say he’s had enough. It’s painful to watch and while I’ve been a longtime critic, I honestly feel so badly for him. I can’t imagine dealing with his struggles and injuries, while being dissected under a public microscope. It’s both stubborn and courageous for him to continue yet another (I’ve lost count) “comeback” to competitive golf.

Unless you’ve endured an injury that has ended your athletic career or that prevents you from living life like a regular pain-free individual, then I ask that you reserve judgment and perhaps try having empathy — a quality many seem to be lacking these days.

Here’s Tiger’s full post-round transcript from Thursday:

Q. Obviously not what you were looking for today. Could you just sum it all up?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I didn’t hit the ball very well. I left their virtually probably about 16 putts short. I just couldn’t get the speed of these things, and consequently, it added up to a pretty high number.

Q. Yesterday you talked about wanting to have the swing that didn’t have any pain, but early on, it looked like you were in pain. Were you or could you just describe what you’re going through when you’re starting out the round?
TIGER WOODS: No, I wasn’t in pain at all. I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn’t doing a very good job. At the end I finally hit some good ones but damage had already been done. On top of that, I could have hung in there, I could have shot something near even par if I would have made some putts, but I made nothing.

Q. Was it the speed of the greens?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I just could not hit the putts hard enough. I left every putt short. What I thought was downgrain, downwind, would be quick, downhill, and I still came up short. Into the wind, uphill putts into the grain, I put a little more hinge on it going back to try to get a little more hit to it and it still didn’t work.

So I’ll trying to figure something out, maybe more left hip on it, something, a little more weight, do something to try to get some of these putts to the hole.

Q. Is it hard for you to stay upbeat just now and stay positive? What keeps you, you know, working through this?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I’ve got to get to somehow — hopefully this wind blows tomorrow and I shoot a good round and get back to even par now. ^ that’s certainly not out of the realm of winning the golf tournament.

But I have to go out there and do it, I have to go out there and execute and it’s going to be tough and hopefully it is tough and I can play a really solid round, and give myself more looks. I mean, I haven’t given myself a lot of looks at birdies and I need to give myself a lot more looks.

Q. Different course and different circumstances, but are you not — is something not quite as good as it was in the Bahamas, where you had a lot of good ball-striking?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, you know, I did, I drove it better certainly in the Bahamas, I really did. I don’t know why. If I could — if I knew, I could tell you right now. But there’s something that’s different. I know the drive — the last two drives I hit off of 8 and 9 today, there’s something different. I need to figure out what the hell I did that was different, and then replicate it for another, you know, hopefully another 54 more holes.

Q. Is it hard for you to stay patient on days like this?
TIGER WOODS: Patient, a little bit, sometimes, but I’m fighting my ass off to try and shoot a score. I’m trying to get back to even par, and once I get back to even par, try and get 1- or 2-under. Just try and creep my way back. I kept telling Joey, I said, if we could get to even par at the turn, we have two drivable, three short, come on, maybe we can get to under par for the round, we can get this thing going, we can get it moving. And it just never materialised. I never did it.

On Steinberg’s claim that this latest back spasm had nothing to do with the nerve pain that kept Woods from competition for so long: I call BS. Well, obviously, as Steinberg states himself, he’s not a doctor. I’m not, either. But if it were a different type of pain/issue than the nerve one, I’m just speaking on nearly 17 years of real life experience — it’s usually all related and connected in some way. OK, fine, let’s say it wasn’t the “nerve pain.” It’s still fair to say that Woods isn’t entirely healthy and that the long flight and jet lag — both of which throw off your body and can cause debilitating pain and spasms — played a part. It’s also fair to assume Woods has done everything in his power to rehab and return to competitive golf.

This is what we’ve seen of Tiger in 2017: A missed cut at Torrey Pines (not surprising) and a five-over 77 and eventual WD before the second round in dreadful conditions. But what about the Tiger Woods we saw in the 17-man field at his tourney in the Bahamas? Well, I wasn’t there, but I also recall he finished 15th out of 17, and while there was promise, especially on the front nine where he appeared to swing smoothly and slowly, his game fell apart on the back nine when he tried to test himself and go after it more aggressively.

It really sucks to watch Tiger attempt to play when he’s simply an average and injured middle-aged golfer at this point. I feel for him. I do. It’s a process for every individual when to call it quits, and obviously, Woods is anything but a quitter.

Most of the time, though, it takes great bravery and guts to face the reality and to do the hardest thing of all for any competitive athlete; when the payoff is no longer worth the steep price; when his health and long-term well-being physically and emotionally are likely issues… His legions of fans wouldn’t blame him if he simply faced the facts of his ailing, injured, battered back and retired. (Aside: If you’re still under the delusion that Woods still has another major in him, think about the little we’ve seen the past two weeks, or hell, the last several years.)

Accepting that you cannot do what you once could and walking away takes more courage than continuing to try and turn back the clock to another era when you were healthy.  However, it’s an arduous and personal process (no sarcasm) to reach this point — one that any athlete at any level, let alone Tiger Woods, the GOAT in golf (IMHO) would have immense trouble coming to terms with.

Tiger’s next start is scheduled for the Genesis Open at Riviera on February 16th. From there, he’s also supposed to play the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens the following week. We’ll see.