Just three events into his comeback, valid questions are being asked again about Tiger Woods’s future after he was unable to play in the second round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. It took a controversial twist when a decision to initially halt play then suspend it for the day due to a shamal, fierce northwesterly winds, sparked criticism from players who’d battled similarly tough conditions earlier in the day. The main storyline, though, had already been provided by the man who’d received a hefty sum to be here.
His agent, Mark Steinberg, said Woods had been forced to withdraw from the £2.2 million tournament due to back spasms, which had started late on Thursday night and, despite the efforts of his personal trainer, both then and for around three-and-a-half hours on Friday morning, had not eased off sufficiently in order for the two-time winner to continue at Emirates Golf Club.
The 41-year-old did turn up there later in the day to take part in a Q&A session in a private suite in the corporate hospitality unit, but, despite Steinberg expressing hope over the disappointing exit from the event not being caused by the nerve problem that led Woods to undergo three separate back surgeries during a 15-month lay-off, the end could well be nigh.
For this to come hot on the heels of a missed cut in San Diego on his PGA Tour is a real setback, of that there’s no doubt. After his lengthy lay-off, the 14-time major winner was looking to get as many competitive rounds under his belt before The Masters in early April. That’s the reason this event was the second in a run of four that spanned five weeks. Next week is the one-off in that run, which is set to resume in the Genesis Open in Los Angeles. He might not even make it to Augusta National if that goes badly as well.
“He feels awful for the tournament, but it’s not the nerve pain that caused him to be out for so long, so that is very encouraging,” said Steinberg as he was left to explain Woods’s withdrawal in the UAE. “I think spasms are a funny thing. He’s had some spasms before and I’m sure there’s so many different factors that could play into it. He doesn’t have the strongest back in the world, so it’s probably easier to spasm. The short-term prognosis is that he hopes he’ll be strong based on the fact that it’s not that nerve pain.”
On an eventful day in the desert, two-time major winner Martin Kaymer led the protests over play initially being halted at 2:25pm local time then called off for the day around an hour later, claiming the players in his side of the draw, including Scott Jamieson, Stephen Gallacher and Paul Lawrie, had been handed a raw deal. They’d already played their opening round on Thursday afternoon in a strengthening wind in the UAE, before being sent out in even tougher conditions for their second circuit on Friday morning. In gusts of up to 31mph, as reported by the Tour’s official weatherman, only four players in that early wave broke 70, including Kaymer, who took to Twitter to vent his frustration over the subsequent decision to halt play at a time when just a handful of the afternoon groups had reached the turn.
By then, at least one tree had been blown over as sandstorms swept across the Majlis Course, but, according to Dane Lucas Bjerregaard, an eight-foot tall board had suffered the same fate in the morning. “You didn’t call it off then,” he pointed out in a tweet directed at the European Tour. Making the same point, former world No 1 Kaymer, who’d carded a splendid 69 along with Rafa Cabrera Bello while recent SA Open winner Graeme Storm and Scott Hend had gone one better, wrote on the social media site: “Hard to understand the difference between the morning play and now, therefore even more surprised about the decision.”
Former Masters champion Trevor Immelman described the decision as “ridiculous” due to “half the field playing 36 holes in these conditions”, but tournament director Mike Stewart was adamant the correct call had been made, saying that spectator safety had been taken into account. “In the early afternoon, we had gusts approaching 36mph and beyond,” he said. “The result was that in the last hour of play, we had roofs blown off TV towers. We had balls moving on the greens and one blowing into a bunker. Five trees came down. It was very unsafe and it was unplayable. We brought the players off the golf course in the interests of play and safety to the spectators as well. All going well, we still have a good chance of finishing on time on Sunday afternoon.”
Two-time winner Gallacher highlighted how tricky the conditions had been for the morning starters after he’d battled his way to a one-under 71. “You could be made to look like a 10 handicapper out there due to the gusts,” he said. “You could be standing over the ball and see it get caught by a gust after hitting it and see it come up 40 yards short.” Both Jamieson and Lawrie carded equally respectable 73s.