Tiger's back woes causing distress


DORAL, Fla. -- The blood gave it away. Blood bubbling up from the head gash. Blood caked on the hands, nose and cheek. Enough blood to turn a monogrammed handkerchief from white to almost all red.

"It's not his best shot, eh?" said the tourist from Austria, his blood-stained handkerchief pressed hard against his head as he waited for emergency medical personnel to arrive.

No, Tiger Woods' first shot of Sunday's final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship was not his best, eh. And as it turned out, it also wasn't his worst shot, which is all you need to know about the carnage on his scorecard.

Woods shot a 6-over-par 78, going from T-4 to start the day, to T-25 to end it, 9 strokes behind your winner, Patrick Reed. Don't even bother trying to sprinkle happy dust on the round; it was painful to watch and apparently even more painful to play.

"It's over," Woods said. "It's finally done, which is good."

The back condition that forced Woods to withdraw a week ago at the Honda Classic continues to plague the world's No. 1-ranked player. He was a shadow of his Saturday Blue Monster self, when he shot his lowest round of the year in relation to par (66). He is definitely a shadow of his 2013 self, when he won five tournaments and PGA Tour Player of the Year.

"As I said, if I feel good, I can actually make a pretty decent swing," he said. "You saw it [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."

Woods had spectators running for cover during parts of Sunday's play. He hit the poor Austrian with his tee shot on No. 1 and gave him a signed glove as an apology note. He did the same thing on No. 3, when he hit another member of the gallery.

There were no visible signs of discomfort during Woods' warmup on the Trump National Doral driving range. As The Donald himself watched from 15 yards away, Woods went through his full complement of shots.

But then came the pushed tee shot on No. 1. And the errant tee shot on No. 3, followed by the sight of Woods twisting and turning his back just before he splashed his second shot short and into the water.

There was the awkward lie on No. 6, when Woods had his left foot in a fairway bunker and his right foot on the grass. After the failed 8-iron shot -- short and to the left -- he clutched his back for a moment.

"That's what set it off and then it was done after that," he said.

His back phoned in sick on the sixth hole, but by then it probably didn't matter. Woods was already 7 shots behind Reed and on the verge of tournament irrelevance by the time he stepped to the No. 6 tee box. He fell to 8 back after bogeying the hole.

Woods spent more time in the Blue Monster sand than a beach umbrella. He missed putts in ways that made you do a double take. He botched a flop shot.

On the 11th green, the caddie for playing partner Hunter Mahan retrieved Woods' ball from the cup, sparing Woods the misery of having to bend down. More than a few times, Woods walked as if he were wearing a body brace.

All in all, he looked like a guy in need of a heating pad and chiropractor. Or who knows these days: An epidural? A leave of absence? Back surgery?

"It's the same thing," Woods said of the back spasms that caused him to WD at the Honda Classic. "If it flares up, it flares up."

It's always dangerous to speculate, but Woods clearly was in discomfort for the majority of his round. When asked if his condition could be something more serious than back spasms, Woods said, "Well, it is back spasms. So we've done all the protocols and it's just a matter of keeping everything aligned, so I don't go into that."

In other words, Woods isn't in a hurry to get into medical specifics. He has always been that way, which is fair enough. You want to ask what he hit on the par-3 ninth, fine. You want to ask about MRIs and X-rays, good luck.

"As I've said, we've done all the protocols," he said.

Nobody was sure what to expect from Woods on Sunday. He could win going away. He could grind it out. He could WD. Anything was possible.

Woods grinded it out, but at what cost? He isn't scheduled to play again until March 20 at Bay Hill. But what if his back doesn't cooperate? What if his medical and training team can't put him back together in time? Is next month's Masters in jeopardy?

The only absolutes are these: It was only the eighth time in 18 years as a pro that Woods went an entire round without a birdie. It was his worst-ever round at Doral. And since the start of last year, Woods has recorded a Sunday round in the 60s just three times.

Withdrawing from the tournament was never a consideration, he said. But after playing 62 holes in three days, Woods planned to "shut it down for a while."

Earlier in the week, during his pre-tournament news conference, Woods delivered a polite reminder of what happens when people doubt him. It was said with a smile, sort of, but it was said.

"A lot of you in here," Woods told the media on Wednesday, "have wrote me off, that I would never come back. But here I am."

Woods was here at Doral in spirit, but his red shirt-Sunday game was nowhere to be found.

An Austrian has the bloody head to prove it.