Tiger leaves Doral in pain, with more doubts about future
Tiger Woods could have set up anywhere on the almost empty practice range at Doral but chose to warm up next to Patrick Reed.
The 23-year-old Reed was wearing a red shirt and black pants — which is verboten on the PGA Tour on Sundays for anyone other than Woods — and held the third-round lead at the Cadillac Championship.
Let’s say Woods, who was three shots back after a blistering Saturday 66, isn’t beyond playing mind games.
But instead of making Reed in any way uncomfortable, he was served a reminder that the intimidation factor that buckled so many players in the 2000s just doesn’t exist anymore.
"That’s fine," replied Reed when reminded on Saturday night that Woods lurked in the chasing pack.
The burly young Texan made birdie at three of the opening four holes en route to winning for the third time in his past 14 starts and replacing Woods as the youngest winner of a World Golf Championship event.
"I have a lot of confidence in my game," said Reed, who doesn’t lack bravado. "I can close deals."
Woods, meanwhile, set the tone for defending his title with what he calls a "crop duster" of a drive — sprayed way right — on the first hole.
If his tilt wasn’t completely dead by the time he hit his second fan with a tee shot, on the third hole, it was on the sixth, when he made an awkward swing with one foot in a fairway bunker and once again aggravated his back.
Not wanting to withdraw for the second Sunday in succession after a round went pear-shaped, Woods soldiered on to finish with a hapless, 6-over-par 78, his highest final-round score ever on the PGA Tour.
It was also only the eighth round of his 18-year PGA Tour career that did not feature a single birdie.
And it continued an alarming streak for Woods: He now routinely saves his worst for last. He has shot a final round in the 60s only twice in the past 16 months.
As worrying as the weekend swoons must be, Woods has bigger fish to fry.
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.
The inescapable truth is that he’s suddenly developed chronic back problems.
"It’s the same thing. 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."
Of all the arguments made for why he won’t catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors, a body that’s falling apart — with more wear and tear than its 38 years — may now be the most compelling.
Woods is scheduled to take a week off before defending his title at Bay Hill, but the wisdom of even playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational must be questioned given the Masters — with all that it holds for Woods — is a month away.
Woods was at his cryptic best after his round, refusing to say whether he’s had an MRI exam on his back or reveal what doctors said causes the spasms.
"We’ve done all the protocols and it’s just a matter of keeping everything aligned so I don’t go into (spasms)," he said.
He did leave open the possibility of resting longer than just a week.
"I don’t know, just let me get through this day, you know, get some treatment and we’ll assess it as time goes on," he said.
"I had a quick turnaround from last week. Normally things like this, you shut it down for a while and then get back up and get the strength and everything developed around it."
He didn’t leave Miami, however, without reminding that when he’s healthy, he can still play the game at a high level.
"If I feel good, I can actually make a pretty decent swing," he said.
"You saw it (on Saturday). I actually can make some good swings and shoot a good score, but if I’m feeling like this, it’s a little tough."
And therein lies the rub.
The rest of the field isn’t waiting for Tiger to feel better. Instead, they’re becoming accustomed to beating him.
Reed grew up idolizing Woods — hence the red shirt and black pants.
"Just happens that we both wear it on a Sunday now," he said with not the slightest hint of irony.
But he speaks of Woods like NBA players speak of Michael Jordan: reverentially but with an understanding that the past is the past and this is their time.
And if Woods does somehow remain healthy, this will surely be the next hurdle: a generation of young players who aren’t intimidated and are growing accustomed to winning.
"Look at Russell Henley — he’s won twice, Harris English has won twice, Jordan Spieth won once, myself, I’ve won three times," said Reed.
"To see the young guys coming out and playing and putting it to the veterans is always nice."