• The Masters

Augusta fears for injured Woods

ESPN staff
March 19, 2014
Tiger Woods won the event a year ago © Getty Images

Tiger Woods's participation in the 2014 Masters is in grave doubt after his back problems forced him to pull out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The world No.1 had expected to defend his title at Bay Hill after a week of treatment and rest but, instead, released a statement which hinted that he fears missing the Augusta major for the first time since 1995.

"I personally called Arnold today to tell him that, sadly, I won't be able to play in his tournament this year," Woods said.

"Unfortunately, my back spasms and the pain haven't subsided. It's too early to know about the Masters, and I will continue to be evaluated and work closely with my doctors. I feel badly that I won't be able to play in this great tournament this week."

Tiger tamed

Woods wilts in the Florida sun © Getty Images
  • Woods has had several injuries throughout his 18-year career as a professional:
  • 2008: Woods famously won the US Open - his last major victory - on one leg. Following that play-off triumph over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines, Woods had surgery on his ACL, knocking him out of action for more than eight months. He missed the Open and PGA Championship as a result.
  • 2011: Woods again sat out of the the Open, as well as the US Open, when knee and Achilles problems sidelined him for four months.
  • 2013: Woods' elbow bothered him at the US Open, causing him to withdraw from the AT&T National, a tournament that benefits his foundation. And then at the Barclays in Augusta, Woods had back spasms that sent him to the ground during the final round. He ended up finishing tied for second, but struggled throughout the rest of the FedEx Cup play-offs.
  • 2014: Woods' back problems returned at the Honda Classic, causing him to withdraw with just five holes remaining in the final round. He played the WGC-Cadillac Championship the following week, but he was clearly uncomfortable. He has since pulled out of the Bay Hill Invitational, putting his Masters place in doubt.

Woods withdrew from the Honda Classic three weeks ago in the final round due to spasms he first felt last August. He suffered similarly at the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral a fortnight ago, posting his highest final round score in 18 seasons as a professional player, a 78.

Even if the American is fit enough to play in the Masters, how competitive he will be is open to debate. He is in unusually poor form having missed the Saturday cut at Torrey Pines, finished in a tie for 41st in Dubai, withdrawn from the Honda Classic and finished outside the top 20 at Doral.

Woods, 38, who won the Arnold Palmer Inivitational a year ago for the eighth time, but he tweeted the bad news about the 2014 event on Tuesday.

After Doral, Woods said the injury and pain he was enduring was the same as that which had bothered him a week earlier at the Honda Classic.

"If it flares up, it flares up," he said. "It's just a matter of keeping it calm, and we had a quick turnaround here from last week. It would be nice to have a week off where I can shut it down and get some treatment."

But not even that recovery period was enough for Woods to play at a place where he has won eight times in 16 starts as a professional.

"I am certainly sorry that Tiger is not able to play," Palmer said in a statement. "Quite obviously, we will miss having him here this week. He called me to tell me that his back was still giving him a lot of trouble and he didn't feel he should play. I told him I understood and wished him well."

At Doral, Woods was asked if the injury was more serious than back spasms: "Well, it is back spasms, so we've done all the protocols and it's just a matter of keeping everything aligned so I don't go into that."

Asked if he has had an MRI performed, he replied: "As I said, we've done all the protocols."

Woods took care in the off-season, he said. He played and practiced little in anticipation of a long year.

"I took a lot of time off this winter to get ready for the season because it's going to be a long grind," he said last month.

And yet, three tournaments in, the back problems surfaced again and would appear still be an issue. Woods is off to the worst start of his career, with a tie for 80th at the Farmers Insurance Open, a tie for 41st at the Dubai Desert Classic, the withdrawal from the Honda Classic and 25th at Doral.

The Bay Hill event was expected to be his last tournament prior to the Masters, which begins in three weeks, on April 10. In each of his four Masters victories - the last in 2005 - Woods won at least once prior to getting to Augusta National.

The only time Woods played less going into the Masters was in 2010, when he made his first start at the Masters and tied for fourth, and in 2009, when he played three times prior to a tie for sixth.

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