Boyette: Tiger Woods still on track to play in Masters Tournament
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Everyone in Augusta can breathe easier. It appears Tiger Woods is still on track to play in the Masters.
After Woods withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational early last week, there was concern about his health. He cited a neck strain for skipping the event he’s won eight previous times, and some wondered if he would be in jeopardy of missing the Masters again.
He put those questions to bed Tuesday at his news conference at the Players Championship.
“It’s not painful now,” Woods said. “It was getting to the point where it was affecting my setup, my backswing, my through swing. It was just gradually getting worse. That’s just because my lower back is fused, and so the stress has to go somewhere if I don’t have movement, and so it’s very important for me going forward since the surgery to keep pliable or else the stress is going to go somewhere else.”
Woods has played through pain before, but now seems to wiser. Sitting out Bay Hill was a precautionary move as he eyes the 2019 majors lineup with three venues he has won on. He knows it all can change in the blink of an eye.
“Just manage what I have and understand that I’m going to have good weeks and bad weeks and try and manage as best I possibly can and not push it,” he said.
Injuries kept Woods from playing in three of the past five Masters, an event he won four times between 1997 and 2005. He’s practically a walking MASH unit with four back surgeries as well as four knee surgeries over the years.
But his last back surgery, a spinal fusion in 2017, worked, and Woods enjoyed a resurgence in 2018. His return to Augusta last spring after a two-year absence made it one of the more anticipated Masters in recent years, and he teased us with strong performances at the British Open and PGA Championship. He ended a five-year victory drought at the Tour Championship for his 80th career win, and now only needs three more to surpass Sam Snead as the PGA Tour’s all-time winner.
Woods arrived Monday at TPC Sawgrass and Tuesday morning played an early practice round with Justin Thomas and Trey Mullinax. With the Players moving back to March, Woods and Adam Scott are the only two players in the field who have won it when it was played before the Masters. Woods also won it in its May date in 2013.
“It’s back to how it used to play,” Woods said of the difference in dates. “Cooler, ball’s not going as far. The last hole last year I hit 3-iron, 9-iron. Today it was 3-wood and a 3-iron. So a little bit different.”
This season he has played in three events, and has progressively finished better.
“If I would have gotten my rounds in last week, it would have been four tournaments, so I’m right there where I need to be,” Woods said. “My finishes are getting a little bit better each and every time I’ve gone out so far this year, and I’ve gotten a little bit more consistent with my play, and I think that everything is headed on track towards April.”
Woods measures his success by wins. He was asked if he studied analytics within his game, and if so which ones were most important.
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “Wins.”
The measuring stick for Woods has always been Jack Nicklaus. Woods has 14 major triumphs while Nicklaus is the all-time leader with 18. If you count their U.S. Amateur triumphs, Nicklaus stands at 20 and Woods has 17.
Woods was asked about those counts and the famous Nicklaus timeline that he kept as a child, but he said “people have blown that way out of proportion.”
Instead of professional wins, the timeline focused on milestones such as breaking 40, breaking 80, winning a state amateur and winning the U.S. Amateur.
“I looked at those things and if he’s the greatest of all time, then it would be nice if I was a little bit ahead of schedule, according to those little tidbits,” he said. “I was able to beat all of them at the relative ages that he did it.”
Injuries have likely robbed Woods of the chance to overtake Nicklaus in the majors. At age 43, even if he stays healthy, Woods just doesn’t have that many more chances. Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have proved this year that older golfers can still compete, and win, but there’s a reason the oldest major winner in history remains Julius Boros at 48.
The competitor in Woods will never concede that. Pressed on the Nicklaus question, Woods flashed his famous smile.
“Yeah, there’s that, and I’ve got 80 (wins) and he doesn’t.” Woods said.