Loughran: Tiger’s back threatens Masters (Mar. 20)
Kit Loughran | Thursday, March 20, 2014
You might have heard that Tiger Woods withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Tuesday. Although, amidst all the March Madness hype, I wouldn’t be surprised if you missed it.
Withdrawing from one tournament may seem trivial, but for the world’s No. 1 golfer, it has huge implications. Tiger backed out of the tournament because of severe back spasms, and for a 38-year-old in fervent pursuit of another Masters title, well, this doesn’t look too good. Especially given the fact that Tiger not only is last year’s defending Arnold Palmer Invitational champion, but also has won this tournament eight times since 2000.
It also doesn’t help that the Masters is just three weeks away. Can the ailing Tiger still compete in golf’s biggest championships?
Tiger had to withdraw after 13 holes in the third round of the Honda Classic on March 2. Then, the next week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Doral, he shot a fourth-round 78 — the worst final-round score of his professional career. He couldn’t even grab his ball out of the cup — the caddies had to do that for him.
And, now, less than two weeks later, Tiger can’t play Bay Hill — a course he clearly dominates.
Woods has only played in four tournaments this year, and after returning from an offseason that was intended to help his injured back, his upcoming Masters appearance resembles a long-drive hit clear off the fairway and deep into the rough. Can he get his ball back on the green in time for Augusta?
While Augusta is obviously Tiger’s biggest concern at the moment, his increasing back spasms threaten an even greater goal: his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ major championship record.
Since he won the U.S. Open in 2008, Tiger has been stuck on 14 major titles. This puts him just four majors behind Nicklaus’ 18. I might say “just” four, but with Tiger’s ailing back problems that four is beginning to look more and more elusive.
Golf legend Arnold Palmer, though, believes Tiger’s pursuit of Nicklaus is still alive. Palmer might have won the last of his seven major titles at the age of 33 at the 1964 Masters, but that doesn’t mean that Tiger can’t keep on track to victory at 38. Take Nicklaus, who clinched four titles in his 40s, and Ben Hogan, who won three out of his nine titles in his 40s as well. The only difference between them and Tiger is that they did not have severe back problems that threatened to keep them from playing in majors.
Even though Tiger’s back might have forced him to pass up the opportunity to win at Bay Hill for the ninth time, he clearly has his priorities set on trying to earn his fifth green jacket. For Tiger’s sake, let’s hope it’s not his back that ruins his shot at Augusta and his 15th title.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.