Tiger Woods won’t be playing golf in New Jersey this weekend. And now it’s fair to wonder if he will, or should, play again this season.
Woods withdrew from The Northern Trust on Friday morning, hours before his second-round tee time, citing a “mild oblique strain that led to pain and stiffness.”
It’s unclear when Woods sustained the injury. He shot a 4-over 75 in the first round and was likely to miss the cut. This is the first time since his return to golf from spinal fusion surgery that Woods has withdrawn from a tournament.
“I went for treatment early Friday morning,” Woods said in a statement. “But unfortunately, I’m still unable to compete.”
Woods is scheduled to play next week at the BMW Championship near Chicago, “and (remains) hopeful I can compete.”
The 43-year-old made a remarkable return to competitive golf in 2018, after multiple back surgeries nearly forced him into retirement. He won his first event in more than five years last September at The Tour Championship, and captured his first major championship since 2008 in April at the Masters.
But since then, Woods has not looked right. He played only four events in the three months following the Masters, missing the cut at the PGA Championship and British Open.
Woods has been in obvious discomfort at every tournament he’s played since the Masters. He has repeatedly citied “stiffness” as the reason for that discomfort, saying this is his new reality because of his age and previous surgeries.
Wednesday, Woods stopped hitting full shots midway through his pro-am round, saying he felt stiff.
“As I’ve said ... all year, this is how it is,” said Woods, who has been notoriously less than forthcoming about past injury issues. “Some days I’m stiffer than others.”
Friday was the first time Woods cited an issue with the oblique, a large muscle on the side of the lower abdomen.
Woods withdrew a few days before the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, citing a neck strain which he later blamed on his spinal fusion surgery.
“That’s one of the issues of having a procedure like I did, that the forces have to go somewhere,” Woods said in March at The Players Championship. “I’ve got to stay fit, I’ve got to stay on it, and have to stay as loose as I possibly can for as long as I play out here.”
Woods was able to secure that remarkable win a few weeks later at The Masters. But it’s clear he hasn’t figured out how to make his body cooperate since. Which begs the question: Why is Woods even considering playing the penultimate event of the PGA Tour season at next week’s BMW Championship? Why not just shut it down and get his body right for next season?
Only Woods can answer those questions, and he did not speak with reporters after his decision to withdraw.
If Woods is well enough to play next week, he’s still in decent position in the FedEx Cup playoffs despite earning no points at The Northern Trust. He’s projected to enter next week in 35th place, giving him a decent chance to move into the top 30 and advance to the Tour Championship in Atlanta the next week.
But Woods hasn’t played in back-to-back events since February, a stretch that led to him pulling out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational after a week off. After seeing him gingerly walk around Liberty National this week, where his game did not look sharp, it’s hard to imagine him finding a way to play two weeks in a row right now – let alone contend.
Woods’ comeback has been one of the greatest storylines in golf over the last two years, culminating with his incredible win at the Masters.
But as The Northern Trust continued without Woods on Friday, the Masters felt like a very long time ago and Woods’ future was cloudier than ever.