Older, wiser and no longer able to push his surgery-scarred body beyond the boundaries. That, essentially, was the message delivered by Tiger Woods as he explained his decision to sit out last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational while, at the same time, insisted he is on track for next month’s Masters.
Speaking in the build up to this week’s £12.5 million Players Championship, which has moved back to its traditional March slot after a spell being held in May, Woods wasted no time dismissing fears that a neck strain that led to him missing the event at Bay Hill, where he’d won eight times, was a result of his back problems having flared up again.
“It’s not painful now,” reported the 14-time major winner, who, nonetheless, linked the injury to the spinal fusion surgery he underwent in April 2017. “It was getting to the point where it was affecting my set up, my backswing, my through swing. It was just gradually getting worse and that’s just because my lower back is fused.
“The stress has to go somewhere if I don’t have movement, so it’s very important for me to keep pliable. I have to stay fit and I have to stay as loose as I possibly can for as long as I play out here.”
Woods revealed the neck problem had first “flared up” during last year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie, where he managed to get himself in the mix before finishing runner-up in the USPGA Championship at Bellerive the following month.
“It’s about trying to manage what I have,” he added. “I’m 43 with four back surgeries. I am going to have good weeks and bad weeks. I have to try to manage it the best I possibly can and not push it. There are times over the years I have pushed it and I’ve won a few tournaments that way, but also I’ve cost myself a few years here and there because of it.”
Woods admitted he was aware that he “faces challenges going forward” due to his physical state. “I have to be conscious that I can’t practice like I used to,” he said. “I can’t devote the hours I used to on every facet of my game. I have to pick 20 minutes here an hour there and focus on parts of my game. That’s how it is going to be going forward. I have to pick my days and I’ve got to pick my hours. On top of that, there are times I just can’t do it. I have to shut it down, just like I did last week. I had to shut it down to get ready for this week.”
In preparation for his bid to land a third Sawgrass success, Woods spent some time earlier in the week working with a putting guru, Matt Killen. “I had been feeling that my stroke has been off, but a lot of it is physical. I’ve been having a hard time getting into different postures,” he said. “I had Matt, who works with JT [Justin Thomas] take a look at it. He mentioned a few things and, as I started to feel a bit better this past week, the putting definitely freed up.
“We are all going have patches where we just don’t putt well and patches where we make everything. I’ve had my share of runs where I’ve putted well. If I see the line and I feel like I’m releasing the putter with the toe flying over, I feel good. I grew up feeling more like Bobby Locke and Ben Crenshaw letting the putter go and, if I do that, I feel great.”
How is body feels this week rather than how he putts, though, will determine whether or not Woods will play in both the Valspar Championship and WGC-Match Play before trying to win a fifth Masters in a month’s time. “I’ve played three tournaments this year and that’s about right,” he said in looking towards Augusta. “I’m right where I need to be. My finishes are getting a little bit better. I’ve got a little bit more consistent with my play and I think everything is headed on track towards April.”