Lusetich: Woods' stubbornness killing his game — and body (VIDEO)
As far as debilitating injuries go, this was hardly Paul George snapping his leg.
Tiger Woods lost his balance after hitting a shot from an awkward lie on the second hole at the Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday.
He fell back into a bunker but quickly regained control.
That seemed to be that.
This is, after all, just golf and this is a man who prides himself on being the sport’s first true athlete — a nonsensical claim, of course, given the long history of the game, but one forwarded by the propagandists at Nike, and one that has always brought much joy to Woods himself.
But an hour or so later, after scraping it around for eight holes with something approaching his D-game — as in, Diabolical — Woods clutched his back after hitting a driver and was soon grimacing.
The pattern after that was familiar to anyone who’s watched him since he was brought to his knees at The Barclays last September by back problems he’d never before mentioned.
By the time he’d reached his car in the Firestone Country Club parking lot, he could barely stand straight.
Golf’s most ripped and well-conditioned athlete is once again its most fragile.
Woods left Akron with more questions than answers.
Did he return too soon after having a relatively minor surgery to shave a disk in his back so it wouldn’t bother nerves?
Graham DeLaet was almost 10 years younger than Woods when he had the same procedure done and he took 10 months off, not three.
But Woods is stubborn. Notoriously stubborn.
And if the doctors told him he needed more time to recuperate, he probably remembered they told him in 2008 he couldn’t play the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines with a shredded anterior cruciate ligament and a fracture in his leg.
He didn’t just play that tournament — he won the thing in perhaps the most remarkable victory of a remarkable career.
And be sure it wasn’t lost on Woods that with Father Time on his heels and two venues he’d won at before, Hoylake and Valhalla, hosting majors this year, it was worth giving a quick comeback a try.
But in his three outings since returning, the only thing that’s certain is that this isn’t the same Tiger Woods who won those majors.
His body’s not the same and his game isn’t even close.
Even before the back spasms, Woods was barely batting above golf’s Mendoza Line at the Bridgestone Invitational.
He began with a 68 — a shot better than Rory McIlroy — but then, as he’s been wont to do, got steadily worse, turning in rounds of 71 and 72, while McIlroy, of course, went on to win.
Now Woods will wait on medical advice before he decides whether to play this week's PGA Championship.
Whether he does or not, it’s hard to see him as a contender at Valhalla.
But in pondering what this latest setback means — Colin Montgomerie opined on Sunday night that Woods chase of the Jack Nicklaus record of 18 is now effectively ended — it’s worth revisiting an extract from Hank Haney’s book on his years as Woods’ coach, "The Big Miss."
"Tiger preferred that people see his injuries related to his sport, so that he could wear them as an athletic badge of honor," Haney wrote.
"To him, injuries were a way of being accepted into the fraternity of superstars who played more physical sports than golf."
In the book, Haney details Woods’ phone calls with Derek Jeter in which they console each other about injuries. There’s also a story about how Tiger "nodded knowingly" when Shaquille O’Neal told him he’d been "trying to get through this thing with my knee".
"Until Tiger came along, professional golfers were never really considered athletes in the same sense as football, baseball and basketball players," Haney wrote.
"He liked the impression that his swing was so violently athletic that it put him on constant guard against injury."
Haney said others in Woods’ camp, including ex-caddie Steve Williams and agent Mark Steinberg, "rolled their eyes" when Woods would catalogue his latest injury.
"It’s always something," Williams is quoted as saying.
What’s even more fascinating, however, is the conclusion Haney drew about Woods’ psychological need for injuries.
"In the end, having once been a bit nerdy, Tiger had too much to prove, not just to others, but to himself."