One minute Tiger Woods looked like he was in good spirits, smiling after he had just saved par out of the bunker on No. 11 at the Blue Monster, and the next, he was doubling over in pain after smoking a drive 321 yards down the left-side of 12 fairway and shaking playing partner Webb Simpson’s hand.
Uh-oh, not again.
“He just said, ‘I’m done,” Simpson, with his baby in his arms, told reporters afterward. “I wasn’t paying much attention, but it looked like he made a swing on 12 that really hurt. But didn’t say a whole lot. Class act. Shook my hand. Off he went…maybe his heel was bothering him or something, something with his foot…but we didn’t talk or anything so I’m not sure exactly what it was.”
Woods, who was three-over for the round, limped over to a golf cart, where an official took him directly to his car. Confusion and chaos ensued in the media center. Here we go again.
Along with a pack of reporters, we hustled over to the scoring area behind 18 green and tried to figure out what had happened. The camera crew filming us started running back toward the parking lot/roundabout at the front of the hotel, so naturally we followed. PGA Tour officials (and a handful of media types) had caught Tiger, who was driving, before he took off in a black Mercedes, with his caddie Joe LaCava in the passenger seat.
Tiger said, “Tell them left leg injury.”
Meanwhile, Robert Rock — his hair freshly blown out — was walking out of a lodge with his luggage rolling behind him. He said he had just taken a shower and then saw the commotion on his way to the check-out counter.
Colleague Michael Bamberger was the only media person by 12 tee and recounted his observation. He said Tiger appeared to be in good spirits walking from 11 green to 12 tee. No sign of a limp. Right after impact, Tiger grimaced like he was in severe pain and turned away from the crowd, trying to hide the expression on his face.
ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi did a demonstration for a group of us in the press room of what he saw on the front nine. He said Tiger slightly grimaced after putting out on 7th green and shook his left leg, like he was trying to work out some discomfort. He did the same thing on the 8th green.
It rained heavily this morning when Tiger was on the front nine and he changed shoes at the turn. We weren’t sure if his feet were just wet because of the soggy conditions or if it was something more serious. Turns out, unfortunately, it was the latter.
About an hour later, Tiger’s team issued this statement:
I felt tightness in my left Achilles warming up this morning, and it continued to get progressively worse. After hitting my tee shot at 12, I decided it was necessary to withdraw. In the past, I may have tried to continue to play, but this time, I decided to do what I thought was necessary.
I want to send my regrets to the World Golf Championships, Cadillac and the fans. The galleries were tremendous this week and I want to thank everyone for their support.
I will get my Achilles evaluated sometime early next week.
Asked how his body was holding up after the third round, Tiger replied, “Oh, it feels great.” He relayed the same sentiment to Jason Day at the driving range on Saturday afternoon during their long conversation.
Playing alongside Tiger on Saturday in the third round, good friend Steve Stricker said the fourteen-time major champ didn’t mention any discomfort to him, nor did he notice anything unusual.
Last time Tiger withdrew was after nine holes at The Players Championship last May when he tried to come back too soon following injuries to his left Achilles heel and knee on the 17th hole during the third round of the Masters.
So far in 2012, Tiger has continually said he’s felt healthy for the first time in a long while.
He’s schedule to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in two weeks, the last event before the Masters. I’m betting he bails on Arnie’s tourney and shows up at Augusta. Fingers crossed?
“To be honest, it’s a shame, because he looked like he was coming out this year, swinging it really well, playing good, getting himself into contention,” said world No. 1 Rory McIlroy after posting a final round five-under 67 to place third. “It’s probably just precautionary, but I really hope he’s healthy for the Masters, because obviously it would be a great week with him there.
“Tiger Woods has been the face of golf for the last 15 years. And you know, feeling like he’s coming back to his best or something near his best, it’s great for the game. He can spark an interest in golf that no one else can. You know, it’s great to see him back and in contention. And as I said last week, I’d love to have a lot of battles with him coming down the stretch, and it would be great to be able to do that at Augusta, if obviously he’s healthy and plays well, and if I can get myself into that position again, as well.”
*Update: From Bob Harig’s story at ESPN.com: “Paul Tesori, a veteran caddie who works for Simpson, said he noticed an issue with Woods walking as early as the fourth hole. He said that LaCava said the Achilles ‘puffed up.’”
(AP Photos/Wilfredo Lee)