Tiger Woods Withdraws From Northern Trust, Remains Stuck in Catch-22

Credit:

Mark Koznezny, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Tiger Woods

Aug 10, 2019, 12:00 PM EDT
  • Tiger Woods has withdrawn from the 2019 Northern Trust with an oblique strain.
  • Jason Sobel explains how Woods is stuck in a catch-22 as he tries to tie Jack Nicklaus' all-time Major Championship record.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Tiger Woods has spent his career chasing No. 18, but he’s found a Catch-22 instead. His body won’t let him get enough reps, so he’s rusty when he plays; when he plays, his body isn’t used to the reps, so it starts to break down.

This is the main takeaway after Woods withdrew Friday morning from The Northern Trust after an opening-round 75, citing a “mild oblique strain that led to pain and stiffness.”

None of it should come as a surprise.

Virtually every single time Woods has spoken with the media this year, he’s been asked about his physical health. And virtually every single time, he answers the exact same way.

“I learned a lot last year by playing too much,” he said in the latest example of this exchange earlier this week. “Coming back from my procedure and not really knowing what to expect, I pushed it pretty hard. Vowed I would never do that again. I’ve cut back the schedule quite a bit, and that’s the challenge now. … It’s trying to figure out how to stay sharp, practice and also have my back feeling good all the time. It’s a challenge.”

Read between the lines and we can understand that Tiger knows he’s basically showing up for tournaments these days with a lottery ticket, hoping it’s a winner.

Sometimes, of course, it is.

All the stars aligned for him just four months ago at Augusta National, when he was able to prep enough without prepping too much, when his body held up for an entire week, when he never became entangled by this Catch-22. The stars can certainly align for him again, too, on a week when his body allows him to swing properly.

That week, though, likely won’t be next week, despite Woods’ statement on Friday that he’ll try to compete at the BMW Championship rather than hitting the kill-switch on his season.

Unlike other players’ injuries which can be cured with treatment and rest, Tiger’s is a long-term condition. This isn’t something that will simply fade away and allow him to play pain-free moving forward.

In the wake of this WD, his first from a PGA Tour event since 2015, many have asked the question: Why is he even trying to play in the FedEx Cup anyway?

The obvious answer is what I’ve already addressed: It’s the lottery ticket scenario. At last year’s Tour Championship, all of those stars aligned and he won for the first time in more than five years. Why not give it a go? For all the public criticism that Woods draws for withdrawals, I’ve always maintained that I admire players who try to play through pain, even if it might not be the smartest decision.

(Also noteworthy: Among the top-five on the PGA Tour all-time wins list, Woods ranks right in the middle with 10 career withdrawals. Arnold Palmer tops the group with 22. Ben Hogan had the fewest with three – and he was hit by a goddamn bus.)

Tiger tried this week. He couldn’t do it. No shame in the effort.

The not-so-obvious answer as to why he played might be found in his answer to my question this week about the new Tour Championship scoring format.

“Since we started the FedEx Cup, it’s been different a lot,” he offered. “We are trying to make the system perfect. We are trying to make it great for all of us. NASCAR didn’t get it right the first time around. They made a few adjustments, and we’re doing the same thing.”

That’s a lot of “we” for one response.

My theory: It stems from Woods being part of the PGA Tour’s decision-making process on that new format. He and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan have a long history of working together, dating to the implementation of the Boston-based tournament which Monahan ran and benefitted Woods’ foundation.

Even if Tiger knew he wasn’t close to 100 percent this week, trying to play was his thank you to a friend – or at least an acknowledgment for allowing him to help make such weighty decisions.

That’s hardly a conspiracy theory by any measure, just some insight into why he would’ve competed when clearly, even during Wednesday’s pro-am round when he stopped hitting full shots, this week was never going to have a happy ending.

As to whether there will be that storybook finish which wraps a bow around his career, maybe we witnessed it at Augusta National back in April. Or maybe there are still multiple chapters remaining, this latest withdrawal simply a minor setback in the overall big picture of his success.

What we do know is that for Woods to win again, all of those stars have to be aligned. His body must allow him to get some reps, those reps must allow him to stay healthy, his health must allow him to play better.

For now, though, he remains entrapped in this cold-blooded Catch-22.

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