Woods finally decides not to play hurt

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Tiger Woods is 38, but his knee, Achilles, elbow, tibia, neck and now back are going on 48, maybe older. Keep this up and Woods will be sponsored by Obamacare.

He isn't going to play in next week's Masters. In fact, Woods isn't exactly sure when he's going to play again. By his own admission, it won't be any time soon.

For the first time since, well, ever, Woods is acknowledging his age. He's acknowledging that his body has a finite number of golf swings left in it. He's acknowledging his golf mortality.

Woods was one of the first pro golfers to use the gym for something more than the sauna. He considered himself a jock, not just a guy who could hit a flop shot. You could bounce a quarter off his abs.

But now that he's on the near side of 40, certain body parts are taking a leave of absence. There were the stress fractures and the reconstructive knee surgery in 2008. There was the neck injury in 2010. The Achilles injury in 2011. The elbow injury in 2013. And back spasms in 2013 and 2014.

He is breaking down, which isn't the same thing as broken down. Even with the conga line of injuries, he won five tournaments last year and was named the PGA Tour's player of the year. So the guy knows how to rehab and recover.

This time Woods needed surgery to address a pinched nerve in his back. If you had seen him at the Barclays last year, or at Honda and Doral last month, you knew he was in pain. You knew he was fighting it too, just like he fought through a torn ACL in 2008 at Torrey Pines, when he won the U.S. Open -- his last major victory -- on one leg.

"It's just pain," said a dismissive Woods in 2008, according to the book authored by his former instructor, Hank Haney.

But this is different. Backs are different. More importantly, Woods is different.

Woods has made a concession to age and to medical realities. The Woods of six years ago might have stubbornly announced he was playing in the Masters, even if a vertebra were sticking out of his Sunday red shirt. Macho Woods would have duct-taped it to his spine and hobbled on.

But the 2014 version of Woods wants to be playing golf in 2024. He tried to rest and rehab the back during the last several months, and it didn't work. He withdrew at Honda and shot a 78 in the final round at Doral. He was a mess.

The back surgery was the mature thing to do. The smart thing to do. The post-Tiger 2008 thing to do.

Perhaps he didn't have a choice. Maybe it was either surgery or spending Masters week wondering when he'd have to WD. Woods has too much respect for that tournament and that place to hockey stick it around.

This would have been his 20th Masters. He first came to Augusta National as a 19-year-old amateur, and between then and now, Woods has won four green jackets and finished in the top five 11 times.

But now wasn't the time to force it. This way, depending on the length of his rehab, Woods might still play in the remaining three majors this year. Or two. Or one. Anything beats none.

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