Marc Warren 'struggled to walk' with back issue that ruled out Austrian Open title defence

Marc Warren has spoken about how “shooting pains” caused by a protruding disc left him “struggling to walk” before getting to the bottom of the problem that has denied him the chance to defend his Austrian Open title this week.

Marc Warren is congratulated by Spaniard Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez after winning the Austrian Open at Diamond Country Club last July. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.

The Scot was carrying his own clubs last July when he returned winnings after a gap of nearly four years with a one-shot victory at Diamond Country Club in Atzenbrugg, near Vienna, in the first event on the European Tour after a Covid-19 lockdown.

That was Warren’s fourth title triumph on the circuit and he then finished joint-fourth in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open in September before adding another top-five finish in a Rolex Series event, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, in January.

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Unbeknown to most people, though the newly-turned 40-year-old has been fighting a back issue almost throughout that time and has now been told that it needs proper rehab as opposed to just resting between events in the hope he’d be fit enough to keep teeing it up.

Marc Warren with the trophy after winning the Austrian Open at Diamond Country Club in Atzenbrugg, near Vienna. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.

“It’s been going on since the second half of last year,” Warren told The Scotsman. “I’ve tried to play and rest and play and rest and so on. But, to be honest, for six to eight months I’ve not practised anywhere near the level I should be to play my best or anywhere near it.

“Within that time, I had some good finishes, but I’ve got a protruding disc - it’s the S5 L1 vertebrae - which is then irritating the sciatic nerve down my right leg. It can be painful, it can be sore but, once it started doing that, it was shooting pains down my leg and I was struggling to walk as everything seizes up.”

After his strong start to the new season in Abu Dhabi, Warren followed an opening 74 in the Saudi International with a 79 to miss the cut before withdrawing after a first-round 77 in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters a few weeks later.

“I’m going to tournaments - Abu Dhabi was one - where I’ve not hit a ball at home all winter from the previous tournament in Dubai, so that was four weeks,” he added. “I’m struggling to walk, limping around the golf course, especially Friday and Saturday because I had to play a lot of holes because of a fog delay.

“In between rounds, I put a degree of loft on my driver just because I couldn’t hit it hard enough to get any flight on it. Fortunately, I putted well that week and had a good finish.

“I then went to Saudi feeling confident but not really having practised again. I got off to a good start on the Thursday there before struggling a bit towards the end then on Friday morning I was warming up and feeling great and hitting the ball really well.

“But, on the tenth, my first hole, I took out a 3-wood and it felt as if I’ve just been in bed for nine hours. Around my hips, I literally couldn’t move, couldn’t rotate and couldn’t generate any speed.

“I’ve just gone from hitting drivers full out to having to try and chip it off the tee and get it down the fairway. I had a perfect number for a gap wedge, but I came up eight to ten yards short of the green and that was me thinking I’m hitting it hard.

“There was just nothing there and trying to deal with stuff like that is impossible because it’s just guess work that you are relying on. It’s been frustrating as I basically can’t move to swing the golf club.

“I had an MRI after that and that’s when we really found out what it was. I knew rehab wasn’t starting until after Qatar, so I tried to have one last week to see what happened but, after two or three weeks of not hitting any golf balls, I was winging it, really.

“I said to Calum, my caddie, walking down the first hole, I had never felt so unprepared for a golf tournament in my life. Even down to how far I was hitting the ball, I didn’t really have an idea, it was a total guess.

“I’m pretty much seeing a physio at Hampden every day at the moment. It’s a case of doing exercises to try and progress but, at the same time, it’s a bit trial and error because I’ve not really hit a golf ball since Qatar.

“Hopefully next week I can start doing some slow-motion shots, but it’s a case of waiting and seeing. I’m targeting the Betfred British Masters (at The Belfry in a month’s time), but I think that might be a bit of a push.”

The Austrian Open wasn’t initially on the 2020 schedule before being added less than a month ago when a slot became available due to the Portugal Masters being postponed because of ongoing Covid-19 travel restrictions.

“Steve McGregor, who works closely with Lee Westwood, is overseeing it all,” said Warren of his recovery programme. “He’s over in America just now, so we had a Zoom call with him the day after the Austrian event was announced and I asked if there was any chance we could try and move it along for that.

“But he basically said there was absolutely no chance. After that, the reality of not being able to go and defend left me pretty flat for a couple of days.

“But, if I had gone this week and it set me back to where I was a month or six weeks ago, I would be missing a lot of tournaments in the middle of the season or even beyond that.

“The goal before I play again is to play at least three rounds at home with a full warm up without getting reaction or pain otherwise I am just going to be going round in circles.”

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