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PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods neck injury and The Players Championship

Every week of the 2010 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Greetings, fellow Confidentialists. The Players finish from The Ol' Swamp was close and pretty exciting, but let's start with Tiger Woods. On Sunday he pulled out mid-round with a sore neck, which calls into question his summer schedule. Tiger now suddenly says he's been playing through the neck pain until now. The problems just keep coming for Woods. Is he going to be a factor in any major championships, or is this going to be a lost year in his career? I'm leaning toward the latter.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Could be that at an age when many players are in their primes, Woods is past his. He's been at the center of golf for almost two decades. That's a lot of stress. Hope I'm wrong.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Even if Tiger were 100% healthy, his swing is not. He was likely going to skip the three-week Texas Swing, and then play Memorial before heading to Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open. He said himself that he needed to play more rounds, so being sidelined with an injury is going to make it that much tougher to be a factor this season. It's going to be a year that "coulda been" for Tiger in a lot of ways.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What a run for Tiger. You can't make his last six months up. The guy has turned into the Chicago Cubs.

Van Sickle: One pressroom wag said Tiger is starting to remind him more every day of Michelle Wie. (Sorry I stole that line, man.)

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: If the neck injury is as bad as he's making it sound, he'd be wise to shut it down for a while. I grimace at the thought of watching him hit out of U.S. Open rough. And the way he's driving it, he would figure to be there plenty.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Hard to believe that in the prime of his career he could be an absolute non-factor for an entire season, but that's looking more and more likely now.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: If Tiger were a stock, now would be the time to buy. Can't go much lower, but long-term, still lots of value. (I gotta stop reading Fortune.)

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: You would have to be out of your mind to count Tiger Woods out. Even if he doesn't win for the next two years, he'll be back before he's done.

Van Sickle: I agree he'll be back eventually. I also agree that it's going to be longer than we thought. He's not going to step right back into it. I'd say he's not going to get there until his marriage situation is resolved.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this WD is an indication of Tiger's lack of desire and weariness about this period in his personal life and golf game. I think the pre-scandal Tiger is able to get through 18 holes and handle an injury with care. As to the question about the remainder of the season: I think it's possible that he doesn't play again until Pebble Beach. The summer is not lost.

Bamberger: That's right. If somebody else plays hurt and shoots 79, nobody cares. If Woods does it, it's blogged about forever. And maybe he's sick of that.

Dusek: No other golfer's bar is set as high as Tiger's. We have come to expect him to reach that level (circa 2000, 2001, 2006-2007) quickly and seamlessly upon his return every season. Clearly this is NOT just any season, and clearly he's not going to meet that standard anytime soon.

Van Sickle: In fairness to Tiger, just about every other golfer who has endured marital problems has pretty much lost a year of his career. Playing through grief is one thing. Playing when your life is unsettled and unhappy and in disrepair is another. Few have done it successfully. So even if Tiger quickly regains his health, I think we now realize that regaining his top playing form is going to be more difficult than just flipping a switch.

Hack: Absolutely. The guy looks nothing like he used to — body language, swing, those bad sunglasses. How could he, with the half year he's had? Now he's going to lose more practice time and more tournament reps and still try to compete at the highest level at Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits? I can't believe how much has changed since Thanksgiving.

Gorant: When you think about the course of events from June 2008 to today, it's like a Greek tragedy. Let's hope no one gets his eyes gouged out.

Hack: Hubris and hamartia are something else, aren't they?

Van Sickle: Tiger suddenly reminds me of Fred Couples. For the first time, he looks like he doesn't want to be No. 1 anymore. He looks like he wants out.

Bamberger: I agree with that. He's finally figured out that being No. 1 comes with lots of attention, not all of it good.

Godich: The attention has always been there. The problem is that he has nobody to turn to. And I mean nobody. He could have his own episode of "Lost."

Bamberger: Not really. His whole private life was ignored. For years.

Godich: His private life was ignored because he never let anybody in. He was also protected by a close circle of friends. You think he's going to get any sympathy if he cries on somebody's shoulder now? I don't think even Oprah could save him.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Am I the only one who's tired of Tiger revealing an injury after weeks or months of denying it, even when directly questioned about apparent limps or winces? Is he simply a compulsive liar? What is gained by blowing smoke up our asses with lines like, "it just takes time after a long time away." I'm way beyond annoyed with it. I don't mean to sound unsympathetic, but it shows total disrespect on his part to keep coming back to that "you don't know how much pain I was in" line when he's been misleading us about his condition. What's wrong with a little honesty?

Evans: Damn. If Garrity is annoyed we should all take it seriously.

Shipnuck: His addiction to secrecy is so irritating. First the knee, then the Achilles, now the neck. Why can't he just tell us what's going on? It makes it impossible to know what is or is not b.s.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: He wasn't as much of a hothead, and wasn't as short with people. That means at least he's trying. Still, I agree that the secrecy thing is annoying. I agree with Hack. I don't think he'll win a tournament this year.

Van Sickle: Tiger's penchant for secretiveness and outright lying will come back to bite him here. He's been telling us the past few weeks that he just needed to play more. Now he's telling us his neck has been killing him that whole time. Well, which is it? I don't know if he's really hurt or not, or how painful the neck really is. I wouldn't be wondering at all if he hadn't misled us so many times in the past. I'd like to take him at his word, but his word no longer means anything, and that's his own fault. I'm with Garrity — wake me up when he's going to start treating us like adults.

Godich: It also makes me wonder how hurt he really was before today. With all the cameras on him, it's hard to believe someone didn't catch him stretching his neck during a round.

Gorant: Gotta say, I herniated a disc in my lower back this winter, and it doesn't even sound like mine was as bad as Tiger's. I didn't have any radiating pain or tingling, just extreme localized pain. For about two weeks I couldn't do anything. It hurt to walk, it hurt to pick up a carton of milk from the fridge and it hurt to sleep. Getting out of a chair was torture. Don't see how you could play through something like that at all. Not even for one day. Obviously, there's a lot of variation in these things, but it doesn't sound like something he could play through, although if it was limited bulging and then really popped on him today, then I can see how that would stop him dead in his tracks.

Van Sickle: Sorry about your back, Jim. Also, sorry for Golf Channel's Win McMurray, whose slip of the tongue during her report will live in blooper infamy forever.

Evans: The guy doesn't go into the physio trailer the whole week and he's been fighting this injury for two months. Really?

Bamberger: Assume Tiger's voice: Hey, it is what it is. Baby steps. Knee's fine. Head's fine. Neck's fine. You want to know about the wrist? That's personal.

Van Sickle: Give me a prediction: Will Tiger play the Open at Pebble Beach? And if so, will he be a contender? I say yes, he'll play at Pebble, but he won't be a factor by Sunday.

Gorant: I'm gonna say yes and yes.

Bamberger: He'll play. He won't contend. Not driving it where he's driving it. No way.

Dusek: Tiger will play at Pebble Beach, but one good round in four is not going to win him another U.S. Open. He won't contend.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Unlikely to play. If he plays, unlikely to contend.

Herre: Without any information, we're obviously guessing, but I think Woods will do everything in his power to play in the U.S. Open. I wouldn't expect him to play well. He was scoring O.K. at the Players but his game was ugly.

Evans: If he plays he will compete. Otherwise he'll lean on the injury and say he's not playing 100 percent, but that the doctors have given him the O.K. to play. Something like that.

Hack: Tiger will play. But unless Stevie throws his driver into Stillwater Cove, he will not contend.

Van Sickle: A couple of minor heckling moments for Tiger. A point for concern? One of them was a 7-year-old kid. Could that be some kind of tipping point about public opinion? Were these flukes or are we going to see more of this, and is it going to get common enough that it could affect Tiger?

Dusek: There are going to be comments and one-off incidents following Tiger for the rest of his career. Getting razzed by a 7-year-old is brutal, but you just know that a parent or adult put the kid up to it. Regardless, there won't be huge incidents, but I won't be surprised by lines being tossed here and there.

Bamberger: The hecklers are like the dot-com screed-writers — I wouldn't get too worked up about them.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, You guys are all dot-com screed writers!

Herre: I bet there's been more heckling than we know. Have to believe the Tour has had a little chat with its TV partners about this.

Hack: Helicopters trailing him at Isleworth, planes teasing him at Augusta, popped up 3-woods, tingling in his fingers, munchkins heckling him in the gallery. I don't see Tiger winning the rest of the year.

Evans: The kind of personality that could carry on double-digit affairs in several cities around the world for years is not easily dismayed by hecklers or public opinion.

Van Sickle: Bamberger says Tiger is a lock for Pebble. If he's right, who will be his swing coach that week?

Dusek: I say Hank will make it through this season. Tiger says he's hurt, so how can he fire his coach when he claims that everything about his swing hurts after he starts moving?

Godich: Exactly. If the neck injury has been lingering for a while, how can he blame his swing problems on Hank?

Evans: Tiger will never leave Hank as long as we keep talking about it. And Hank is not going to resign. The only thing that will separate those two is a Tin Cup moment in a major.

Van Sickle: Let's congratulate our champion, Tim Clark. Johnny Miller was right when he praised his flawless closing 67. If Sunday's setup was really four shots harder than the other rounds, Clark shot a net 63. Pretty close to Rory McIlroy last week. Once again we're left wondering how this guy had never won on the PGA Tour. And let's try to keep the short jokes to a minimum.

Godich: All the more impressive when you consider how he threw away the title at Colonial last year.

Morfit: The guy had done everything but win. The tip-off that a W was inevitable was when he blitzed Zach Johnson 4 & 3 at the Prez Cup last fall, going 9-under through 15 holes. It'll be interesting to see if Clark can back it up with another W soon, as he hinted he hopes he will.

Shipnuck: What a great performance by the little guy. About six years ago Ernie Els predicted Clark would win a U.S. Open, as straight as he hits it. I think he's right.

Van Sickle: Frankly, I was pretty sure Clark wouldn't par the 18th, even after his all-world tee shot. The man made a putt that counted, though. Hats off. Impressive.

Dusek: Such a good guy. Ernie Els roasted him years ago for using a long putter (remember the "take a tablet or something" comments), but Clark knows what he does well, what he doesn't, and he plays his game.

Bamberger: Not only did he shoot a 67, which in the wind might have been even lower than a net 63, but he also thought his way around the course like Nicklaus and putted like a man who does not need the long wand. This really should help him win other tournaments on hard courses. I don't know about Pebble, but the Old Course should be good for him.

Lipsey: This is now an everyman's tour, with a group of 60 or so guys who are, give or take, pretty equal.

Van Sickle: No, this is an everyman's tournament, where the short hitters have just as good a chance as anyone.

Evans: It wasn't Clark's time until now. I remember as a kid in the 80s it being a big deal that Payne Stewart hadn't won yet, and after he won no one ever talked about it again. It's not the Red Sox or the Cubs, but it's pretty big for Clark and the Brett Quigleys and Briny Bairds of the golf world.

Hack: I watched Clark wobble with the long wand at Colonial last year, when Stricker caught him, and he was rightfully tough on himself afterward. Nobody needed to tell him the score — all the runner-ups, best player without a win, blah blah blah. For him to come back this year and take The Players will play well in the locker room, at the pubs and aboard the G5s, too.

Van Sickle: What happened to the yellow Srixon ball Tim Clark was using last month? A fine marketing opportunity lost. The Players could've boasted a yellow and orange ball user among its list of all-time champions.

Herre: Jerry Pate won the 1982 Players using an orange Wilson ball. Do I get bonus points?

Bamberger: Johnny Miller picked up on the Srixon thread, with Allenby and Clark going low with it.

Dusek: Nice move for a guy that is paid to endorse Callaway.

Van Sickle: Let's talk about Sawgrass. Which did you like better: the kinder, gentler Stadium Course that yielded birdies and eagles and a chance at a -20 winning score, or the U.S. Open wannabe Sunday that was a survival test where 67 by Clark was phenomenal? I thought the birdie fest was fun. I'd rather have Friday or Saturday be the tough day and see a barrage of red on Sunday. Your thoughts?

Dusek: I think giving the players a chance to shoot lower scores makes for more excitement, and brings more players into the mix going into the final round. Nothing is like the back nine at Augusta, but that mentality will make the game more appealing to more people.

Gorant: That's what makes it so odd, because The Players seems to be attempting to emulate The Masters in every other way. Didn't you love the announcements about the limited commercial time? Felt familiar.

Morfit: I talked with Steve Flesch quite a bit afterward, and he felt it was absurd how different the course was from the first two days to the last. He also feels the Players was a better tournament in March, when it was played on Bermuda grass overseeded with rye. I have to agree with him. It feels like the Players has somehow gone backward in significance.

Bamberger: They should have let them play on Sunday, just like the refs did in the Duke-Butler final. Sunday was too late to turn this thing into the U.S. Open, which it shouldn't be anyhow.

Gorant: I agree with that. Those greens looked ridiculously bad.

Lipsey: Birdies and fun whip burned-out greens and plodding, scared golf.

Godich: The Tour needs to make up its mind. Set it up the same way from start to finish.

Shipnuck: The Sunday setup was an embarrassment. It smacked of panic. It's fine for a course to get gradually firmer and faster during a tournament week, but to have such radically different conditions from one day to the next is silly. What's wrong with the best players in the world making birdies?

Evans: The Tour did a good job. Sunday should have the toughest conditions. The best player won today.

Godich: Correction: The player who played best today won.

Dusek: Because today, there is no one "best player." Welcome to the world of golf when a certain someone is not a factor.

Van Sickle: It made for tense TV, like an Open. It made for challenging scoring conditions, like an Open. And it wasn't a huge amount of fun, like an Open. The drama was good enough, though I'll bet the TV folks would've wished for a little more starpower.

Herre: The Tour had to almost "kill" the course to get it up to speed on Sunday. It was right on the edge, close to Shinnecock territory, and looked terrible on TV. It can be fun to watch the players struggle, but playing to the middle of greens gets kind of boring.

Godich: There were at least four holes — 1, 3, 8 and 18 — that yielded only one birdie each. Hard to believe that could happen with 70 of the best players in the world.

Van Sickle: That's called tricking up the hole too much. These guys are too good to snag only one birdie on a hole unless it's set up wrong. If nobody can make birdie, it's an equalizer and negates ability. And thus you get a lot of good players at the top of the leaderboard, but not the best players in the game, like you usually get at Augusta, the U.S. Open and the British Open.

Dusek: So much of the setup this season had to do with the terrible winter Florida went through. Tons of courses, including Sawgrass, were damaged by the severe cold. The rough was less than three inches high.

Herre: I actually like the low rough, which seems to be a trend this year. Lots of flyers, and the groove rule is having a huge effect. How many shots do we see spinning back? There's been a noticeable difference.

Dusek: Westwood's third shot to the ninth green was a perfect example of that. His pitch from the rough would have checked had it been hit with U grooves, but it released into the bunker.

Van Sickle: What of Lee Westwood — or after he dunked it at 17, Lee Wetwood? Hasn't he had too many close calls to justify? He played a couple of poor bunker shots. Then again, he holed some amazing putts. He reminds me of Danny Darwin, a pitcher with great stuff who pitched just well enough to lose a lot of close games. If his team scored three runs, he'd give up four. If they scored one, he'd give up two. Unlucky isn't the word. What is?

Godich: He might have lost this tournament on Saturday, when he had a chance to put some distance between himself and the field. Instead, he posted a ho-hum 70.

Morfit: I was out there for that shot on 9, and that was a horrible miss. But when he rattled in the 22-footer for par, I thought it would be his day. That's the kind of thing Tiger used to do all the time.

Evans: Westwood is not a finisher. Period. At least not a finisher in the U.S.

Godich: He has won a lot overseas against strong fields. If he played in the U.S. full time, he'd have a handful of victories. That said, I wonder if we're not looking at the next Monty when it comes to the major stage.

Shipnuck: You gotta admire him for continuing to throw himself in there, but at some point all these disappointing Sundays have to take a toll. Winning this Players would have been a huge boost heading in to the Opens. Now you have to wonder if Westwood will ever recover from all this recent scar tissue.

Dusek: He reminds me of Phil Mickelson before the 2004 Masters. Lots of close calls, plenty of talent, complimented for positive attitude and smiles in defeat — but unable to win on the biggest stages. Of course, six years later Phil has won four majors, so Lee could be on the right track after all.

Gorant: Same with Padraig. He was the king of second-place finishes. Then he won that playoff at Westchester and went bonkers.

Godich: I excuse the three-putt bogey at the 18th at the British because he rightfully thought Watson would make par there. And I don't think he played that poorly at the Masters; he just ran into a buzzsaw in Mickelson. Today, I thought he really felt the pressure.

Van Sickle: Sorry, Lee, this is just a damn tough league.

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