Tiger Woods on Monday withdrew from this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational because of a neck strain. While Woods played down the injury, any fresh health setback to the game’s most popular player has often elicited alarm throughout the golf community.
Recognizing that level of concern, and aware that a series of lower back surgeries nearly ended his career, Woods tried to mitigate the expected reaction to his exit from the Palmer event, which he has won eight times.
“My lower back is fine, and I have no long-term concerns,” Woods wrote on his Twitter account.
Woods, 43, indicated he has been bothered by the neck strain for “a few weeks,” and added: “I’ve been receiving treatment, but it hasn’t improved enough to play.”
Woods’s neck issue may indeed be minor, but for many years when he struggled to play through myriad infirmities, Woods often withdrew from a tournament with a similarly short statement about a seemingly insignificant injury. In the end, he missed dozens of events, and his absences from competition lasted months because of multiple, serious knee operations and four back surgeries.
On Monday, Woods did offer one encouraging sentence: “I hope to be ready for The Players.”
The Players Championship, which is the PGA Tour’s flagship event and is often called a fifth major golf championship, runs from March 14 to 17. Woods’s optimism about playing in the tournament will help calm worries about his golf fitness for now.
But should he miss that tournament, a fair amount of panic will probably ensue about his ability to continue a startling comeback that was one of the most uplifting stories in sports last year. The Masters begins in five weeks, on April 11.
Six months ago, Woods completed an unforeseen return to golf’s upper echelon and ended a five-year winless drought, with a victory at the season-ending Tour Championship. It was the 18th tournament that Woods played in 2018 — his first full schedule of events since 2015. He did not miss a tournament he was scheduled to appear at last year.
This year, Woods has already played three times. Eight days ago, he finished tied for 10th at the Mexico Championship. At that event, Woods did not mention any neck discomfort, and he did not say Monday how the injury occurred. In his two other events this year, Woods tied for 20th at the Farmer Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in late January, and he shared 15th place at the Genesis Open at Riviera in mid-February.
Woods last won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2013, although he made a charge up the leaderboard at the event last year before stumbling in the final holes to finish in a tie for fifth place.
“I’d like to send my regrets to the Palmer family and the Orlando fans,” Woods wrote on Twitter on Monday. “Its connection to Arnold makes it one of my favorite tournaments and I’m disappointed to miss it.”
Woods, who has won 80 PGA Tour events and 14 major championships, has elevated his world golf ranking to 12th. That ranking had slipped as low as 1,199th while he battled various leg and back injuries.