Lusetich: Tiger Woods says his back feels fine — but for how long?

Tiger Woods chips onto the green on the fifth hole during a practice round for the Cadillac Championship golf tournament on Wednesday, March 5, in Doral, Fla. Three days after he withdrew in the middle of the final round at the Honda Classic with lower back pain, Woods returned to work at the Cadillac Championship by saying he feels better after a few days of constant treatment, and that he was good enough to try to defend his title. 

Wilfredo Lee/AP

MIAMI — It wasn’t just the critics who were questioning Tiger Woods when he withdrew from Sunday’s final round at the Honda Classic with back pain.

He had some explaining to do to his daughter, too.

She hadn’t, after all, dressed in her Sunday red shirt and black skirt to watch her dad throw in the towel.

"I was telling Sam when I was walking off that, ‘Hey, Daddy can handle pain, but I just couldn’t move out there,’" Woods said on Wednesday.

"I got to a point where I couldn’t twist. So trying to explain to your six-year-old daughter why you quit is certainly a very interesting concept and topic."

When you’re Tiger Woods, explaining it to the world isn’t so simple, either.

Inevitably, conclusions are drawn, many of them unkind.

Woods did his best to steer us away from the more dire ones on Wednesday, when he arrived at the redesigned Doral Blue Monster course to announce he would be defending his Cadillac Championship title, beginning Thursday.

"I feel better, how about that?" he said, grinning.

"I feel good."

The question, of course, is: For how long?

Woods said he first had back problems in college — not surprising, given the violence of his swing on what was then a very slight frame — but before Sunday’s withdrawal, the only other time he’d mentioned back problems was last August at The Barclays tournament in New York.

Then, he blamed a too-soft mattress.

Given that he slept in his own bed last week, he’s now forced to concede that — at 38 — the back may continue to be a source of concern.

"I think we have to take a more global look at it, yeah, absolutely, because it comes and goes," he said.

"We’ve got to make sure that we do preventative things to make sure that it doesn’t happen and adjust certain things, whether it’s swing, lifting, whatever it may be, you have to make certain adjustments.

"We’ve done that throughout my entire career (principally to accommodate his troublesome left knee), and this is no different."

Except that it is.

In Woods’ own words "a bad back is something that is no joke."

Golfers have kept the children of orthopedic surgeons driving expensive German cars for years.

And while it’s true that Woods has suffered from a catalogue of ailments over the years — knee, Achilles, neck, elbow and wrist, to name a few — apart from the stiff neck that forced him to pull out of the The Players championship in 2011, those were injuries that only bothered him after he’d hit the ball.

"It’s after impact. So my leg was busted (in 2008). I could deliver the club to however I wanted to on the golf ball. It was just going to hurt like hell afterwards," he said.

"This was different because it effects downswing, follow-through and it was getting so tight that I felt like I couldn’t move."

On Monday, Woods received treatment — including anti-inflammatories — and was able to practice on Tuesday, but said he only hit short shots of up to 60 yards to keep his "feels."

On Wednesday afternoon, armed with only a wedge and a putter, he toured the new-look Doral course — toughened up by architect Gil Hanse at the behest of Donald Trump — for the first time, like a college student cramming for an exam.

It’s not alarmist to say Woods is in need of a good week given his poor start to the season.

So far he’s managed to miss the Saturday cut at Torrey Pines, finish tied-for-41st in Dubai, skip the Match Play and withdraw from the Honda Classic with four 5s and a 7 on his front nine score-card.

Of course, it’s never the Woods way to betray any weakness, so he spoke like a man who had it all under control on Wednesday.

But the reality is the Masters is around the corner and he’s looking like he’s going into Augusta with more question marks than birdies.

What not even he could refute, though, is that the years are taking their toll.

"As we get older, and I’ve learned it as I’ve aged, I don’t quite heal as fast as I used to," he said.

"I just don’t bounce back like I used to. That’s just part of aging. There’s times that — watching my kids run around — I wish I could do that again. They just bounce right up, bruises and they are gone in a day.

"It’s just not that way anymore."

Woods likes to liken himself to Michael Jordan, who in his twilight, when he could no longer fly, developed the fade-away jumper as a way to still win.

But what’s golf’s version of a fade-away jumper?

In the meantime, Woods says that which sustained Jordan — the desire to win — hasn’t left him.

"The will to win hasn’t changed," Woods said.

"It’s, ‘Physically, am I able to do it?.’"

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich, Senior Golf Writer, turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger’s Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLusetich.