AKRON, Ohio -- Tiger Woods tried to change out of his golf shoes, grimacing at the slightest movement, holding himself up against the back of his courtesy car and doing all he could to catch his breath.
It was the look of a man in considerable pain -- shame on those who suggest he was faking it -- and it looked worse than when he withdrew from the Honda Classic in March and limped off the final green at Doral a week later.
The return from back surgery ended nine rounds and eight-plus holes into his comeback, the promise of continued improvement and maybe even a Ryder Cup spot dashed following a 315-yard drive at Firestone Country Club's ninth hole Sunday.
Woods said he first noticed discomfort after an awkward bunker shot on the second hole, his momentum carrying him back down a steep slope -- sort of like stepping off a curb and not realizing the drop. That can send a jolt through the body, and it apparently happened to Woods.
Maybe it is a different injury than the one that resulted in microdiscectomy surgery March 31 to alleviate a pinched nerve in his back. Perhaps he can be treated and nurtured back to health in time for this week's PGA Championship. Or it could be related to the surgery, with another long layoff ahead.
It's all too early to tell, but it is certainly fair to wonder at this point if it is even wise for him to play at all the rest of this year.
Woods was seemingly ahead of schedule, surprising all when he returned in June to the Quicken Loans National at Congressional. That he shot 74-75 to miss the cut didn't matter. He was back and not in pain.
Then it was on to the Open Championship followed by the WGC-Bridgestone, at venues he loved and places he excelled. Woods did himself no favors by refusing to lower expectations, but a realist certainly recognized that he was going to need time to regain the form that sent him to five victories on the PGA Tour a year ago.
After all, Thursday marked the four-month mark from when he had surgery.
Given this latest development, there will be many who surmise he returned too soon. In May, when Woods appeared in public for the first time since surgery at the Quicken Loans media day, he maintained that he was taking it slow and just "trying to focus on getting stronger."
Woods insisted that he would not come back until his advisers said he was ready, and it was just two days ago that he admitted doctors would not allow him to a hit a driver until just prior to committing to the Quicken Loans tournament on June 20.
On Friday, I asked Woods if he had talked to Graham DeLaet, a PGA Tour player who had the same procedure in 2011. DeLaet was in agony before the surgery, didn't return for five months, played three tournaments and then decided he wasn't ready. He played one more in September that year before shutting it down again.
DeLaet is six years younger than Woods, so it makes you wonder. Woods had not spoken to him but did chat with another golfer, Jason Bohn, who had the surgery; Woods said it helped him to keep it all in perspective.