TOM Watson, the United States captain, last night expressed grave concern over Tiger Woods’ hopes of participating in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles as the 14-times major winner kept the golfing world in suspense following his latest back scare.
An equally pessimistic assessment of Woods being able to play in Perthshire next month was delivered by Phil Mickelson, who holds the record for most appearances by an American in the biennial bout.
It came after watching the former world No 1 grimacing in agony as he withdrew during the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron on Sunday.
Woods pulled out after teeing off on the ninth hole at Firestone and told a PGA Tour official that he “jarred” his back on the second hole and thereafter the pain had become progressively worse.
It has left question-marks over his participation in this week’s US PGA Championship at Valhalla as well as the first Ryder Cup to be held in Scotland for more than 40 years.
“Tiger would be a great addition to our team,” said Watson, who, as he bids to improve a record that has produced just two wins in the last nine matches against Europe, has already lost Dustin Johnson after the player took a hiatus from the game to “seek professional help for personal challenges” last week.
“As I’ve said all along, I would pick Tiger Woods if he’s healthy and playing well,” added the five-times Open champion. “This doesn’t bode well right now. I just hope that maybe it’s just an isolated problem that he can turn around and possibly play this week at the PGA.”
Woods, who flew home to Florida on Sunday to be evaluated, won the US PGA Championship at the same course outside Louisville in 2000, but missed the Ryder Cup there six years ago as he recovered from knee surgery. His caddie, Joe LaCava, was at Valhalla yesterday as he prepared as normal for a tournament.
He was reported to have said it was too early to make a decision on whether Woods would be fit for Thursday’s first round and that the player was seeing his physical trainer yesterday to have treatment for the back spasms that forced his weekend withdrawal.
It came in only the 38-year-old’s third event since he returned from an 18-week lay-off as he recovered from microdiscectomy surgery for a pinched nerve in his back.
“I watched him play almost the entire front nine,” said Watson of the events that saw Woods’ participation at Gleneagles become shrouded in another dark cloud, having already been in a perilous position due to being so far out of the picture in this
season’s FedEx Cup.
“And the shot he had at 5... I said, ‘something’s wrong with Tiger’. You don’t hit that
terrible a shot ever – ever. And then, of course, No 9, he just couldn’t go any farther. It concerns me because that’s an injury that seems like he tried to address before and he’s come back from that particular injury.”
Mickelson is due to be in the same group as Woods in the opening two rounds of the season’s final major. “I saw him walking down nine,” said last year’s Open champion, who was on an adjoining hole. “It didn’t look good. It looked like he was really in pain. I hope he’s okay and that he’s able to play (this) week.”
Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, said last night that it was “way too early” to assess his latest injury and that the player hasn’t been ruled out of the US PGA Championship.