Masters may be target too far for wilting Woods

Record of playing in every Masters since 1995 under threat as four-time winner struggles with injury

Tiger Woods was in obvious pain at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Doral and is in a race against time to get fit for the US Masters. Photograph:  Stan Badz/PGA Tour

Tiger Woods was in obvious pain at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Doral and is in a race against time to get fit for the US Masters. Photograph: Stan Badz/PGA Tour

 

Despite all of his personal and physical ailments, Tiger Woods has never failed to appear at the US Masters. That run is now in serious doubt, after the world number one withdrew from this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational because of back trouble.

Woods has played at Augusta National every year since 1995 and has won it four times. Yet the severity of his latest injury condition has become clear; Woods walked off the course 13 holes into his final round at the Honda Classic and was in obvious pain at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Doral this month.

Having chosen to miss Bay Hill, his last scheduled tournament before the Masters, Woods is in a race against time to feature at Augusta at all.

“It’s too early to know about the Masters,” Woods said. “I will continue to be evaluated and work closely with my doctors. Back spasms and the pain haven’t subsided.”

Best wishes
Palmer was among those to send best wishes to Woods, despite the obviously negative impact on interest levels in his tournament this week.

“I am certainly sorry that Tiger is not able to play,” Palmer said. “Quite obviously, we will miss having him here this week. He called me to tell me that his back was still giving him a lot of trouble and he didn’t feel he should play. I told him I understood and wished him well.”

Earlier, Woods had admitted he had to think about his long-term health and that his back issue “just flares up”. He added: “It would be nice if I could just have a week off, where I could shut down and get some treatment.”

The fortnight gap between Doral and Bay Hill, though, appears to have done Woods little or no good at all.

The potential impact on Woods’ bid to match Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors – he is four adrift – has not been lost on anybody in golfing circles. Woods’ fitness looks to be the most significant barrier with regards to the Nicklaus haul.

At 38, Woods may simply be wilting under year upon year of intensive golf. He had knee surgery earlier in his career, with elbow and wrist problems also prevalent then. Last August was the first time he cited a back issue, which even a light playing schedule since has not removed.

Woods has had his worst start to a year as a professional. He failed to survive for all four rounds at the Farmers Insurance Classic, tied 41st in the Dubai Desert Classic, withdrew from Honda and was 25th at Doral. Should Adam Scott win at Bay Hill this weekend, the Australian will overtake Woods as the world number one.

Woods has, though, previously played at the Masters after a low-key buildup. In 2010, it marked his first event of the year after the scandal which engulfed his private life; he finished in a tie for fourth. A year earlier, Woods had played only three times before Augusta. The key difference in 2009 and 2010 is the lack of playing time was Woods’ own choice.

Woods’ absence from the Bay Hill Invitational means world number two Scott is the top ranked player in the field, the Masters champion being paired with US Open champion Justin Rose and Patrick Reed in the first two rounds.

World number three Henrik Stenson is also in the field and looking to recapture the form which saw him become the first player to win the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai in the same season.

‘Paid the price’
Stenson, who has yet to record a top-10 finish in 2014, said: “It was a great year for me last year and I didn’t have much of a rest in between the seasons. I think I’ve paid the price for that a little bit in the early part of this year.”

There are three Irish players in the field. Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, both Augusta-bound, are joined by Pádraig Harrington, who must win over the coming three weeks if he is to secure an invitation.

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