Last week, Tiger Woods missed the cut at the PGA Championship, marking just the fourth time in his career that he failed to make the cut at a major. And it wasn’t even close. Tiger carded a pair of 74’s, putting him at 6-over for the tournament. The cut was 2-under. Tiger finished a shot behind John Daly! There’s no doubt Tiger’s back hindered his play at Valhalla, but why play, if he was fighting through pain?
In the days leading up to the tournament, Tiger claimed his back was “pain-free“, just one week after withdrawing from Bridgestone because of supposedly severe back pain. At Bridgestone, Tiger said he “jarred” his back after an awkward sand shot. That makes sense–Tiger just had back surgery a few months ago. After all, nearly everyone thought Tiger was pushing it, by returning from his injury so soon. But, again: why play the PGA if Tiger’s back was in that much pain? Lots of people will say that is what athlete’s do. They play through pain, and if they win, it is that much sweeter. That’s true, sure. And the risk? Well, with a back injury like Tiger has been dealing with, the consequences to his career would be fatal. Coming back from injury too soon and further aggravating it could speed up the end of his career.
That’s the problem. No one doubts that Tiger is struggling with his back. But withdrawing one day because of pain, returning a few days later for the next tournament supposedly “pain-free,” and then complaining of a stiff back after a bad round? That gets old pretty quickly for most fans. That’s where the conspiracy ‘Tiger is faking it’ or ‘Tiger only complains about his back when he plays badly’ talks come from. Do I think Tiger is indeed acting, only grimacing after bad shots and bad rounds? No, probably not. It still looks bad, though. It’s hard to tell how much pain he in, and back pain can change on a dime. One day, you might be fine, and the next day, incapable of swinging. Tiger might be dealing with that kind of pain, but if so, it makes his decision to keep playing in tournaments that much worse.
Most golf fans would rather see Tiger just shut it down for however long is needed so that he can rehab himself to full strength. The drama each week of how Tiger’s back is doing grows tiresome among fans, especially when Tiger isn’t even in contention.
This last few weeks must be exhausting for Tiger. Now 38 years old and hindered by recent back and knee injuries, you’d have to think Tiger feels the pressure of passing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. The clock is ticking, and Tiger isn’t headed in the right direction. To make matters worse, at Valhalla, the two biggest threats to Woods were at the top of the leaderboard. The supposedly new face of golf Rory McIlroy took home his second consecutive major and fourth total, at just 25 years old. And Phil finished in second, playing the best golf he’s played all season.
It doesn’t get much worse for Tiger than that.