Neck injury the latest twist in Tiger's strange odyssey

Neck injury the latest twist in Tiger’s strange odyssey

Tiger Woods ended his round after hitting an approach shot on the 7th hole.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — That looked like Tiger Woods descending the stairs of a fitness trailer around lunchtime Sunday at The Players Championship. He had the red shirt on, though the shirttail was out. Black hat, too, but it was perched a little funny. The dark sunglasses still don’t look right on the man, but what about Tiger Woods is right these days?

The strangest six months of Woods’s life — and maybe in the life of the PGA Tour — continued in Northeast Florida on Sunday as Woods ballooned an iron approach on the seventh hole, walked up to his playing partner, Jason Bohn, and withdrew from the tournament, citing a neck injury. Last week: MC. This week: WD. Next event: TBD.

“They want me to get a picture on it next week,” Woods said of his neck. “I might have a bulging disk.”

The on-again, off-again saga of Tiger Woods is back off, and nobody seems to know if he will ever find firm footing again. What will a magnetic resonance imaging exam show? Will Woods come back at the Memorial in four weeks or the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in six weeks, or will he just wait until 2011 and start fresh?

And what of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 majors? Woods has 14 of them, and what once looked like a simple march to history now looks more like a trek across the Sahara.
“I’m having a hard time with the pain,” Woods said, and though he was talking about his neck, it seemed applicable to other areas of his life.

Pick any one, and you’ll probably guess right.

As Woods was being interviewed by a small group of reporters in the TPC locker room after walking off the course trailing by 12 shots, Davis Love III was in a nearby row, preparing for his final round. Love said that, earlier in the week, he and Woods were chatting about Love’s own bulging disk problem.

“He and I were [saying] that I needed to work out more,” Love said. “We were talking about working out together.”

Woods says he started feeling neck pain before his comeback at the Masters. In fact, during his pre-Masters press conference, he acknowledged that he was treated at the hospital after his Thanksgiving night accident for “a busted lip and a pretty sore neck.”

Where will Woods go from here, and how will the injury affect him? Love says he developed a bulging disk in 2001, and it has been part of his golfing biography since. He says it is an injury in which the pain ebbs and flows, an injury that can occasionally curb practice time, one that has forced him to pull out of tournaments “one or two at a time.” But he said it can often be managed through therapy and exercise.

“About once a week I’ll get a tingling on the side of my face,” Love said. “It feels like you’ve stuck your finger into a socket. I’ll also get a headache about once a week.”

Love also talked about being able to hit drivers on the practice tee one moment and, suddenly, he’ll switch to hitting wedges and start to feel the tingling when the club hits the hard turf. It’s a hit-and-miss kind of injury, one that can crop up at any time.

“I think I birdied a hole and withdrew on the same hole at the Tour Championship one year,” Love said.

Though he wasn’t sure of the severity of Woods’s ailment, Love predicted that Woods will probably undergo strength tests (Woods said he felt tingling in his fingers on the course), and he even recommended to Woods one of the PGA Tour fitness trailer physical therapists.

T.J. Tomasi, a Golf Magazine Top 100 teacher and an authority on biomechanics, said a timetable for Woods’ return is unclear.

“Nobody knows, but normally, in terms of the progression, you want to rest it and ice it down and prevent swelling and just not hit balls anymore until it goes away,” Tomasi said. “But he’s the defending champ at Memorial, and he was going to use it [to get ready] for the U.S. Open. He needs the playing time.”

So much in Woods’s life is in disarray now — his swing, his marriage and now his neck, apparently. It’s hard to imagine how he got to this place, but he has.

This really is Tiger Woods.