On the surface it’s a passing story.  Tiger Woods pulled out of this week’s PGA Bay Hill Classic to deal with back spasms.  After all, Tiger has pulled out of tournaments before, for much less valid reasons.  He’s walked off courses in mid round in thinly veiled hissy fits over poor play.  We’ve seen it all from Tiger in the past.  Pulling out of a tournament, particularly this close to a major, which he habitually tunes up for in seclusion, on courses matching the conditions on which the major will be played, isn’t usually cause for alarm.  But this is Arnold Palmer’s tournament, not just in name only.  Arnie, still “The King” to all the other greatest names in golf, for attracting the T-V cameras that made them all rich, annually presides over the tournament and all the accompanying festivities. Tiger couldn’t just inform the tournament sponsors he wouldn’t be there, after last week pledging come hell or high water he was in, this one took a personal call to Arnie, and it required a legitimate reason.

More than a week after firing his worst final round ever on Tour, a 78 at Doral, the back spasms are still more than legitimate reason enough.  A week from now the golf world would have winked, smiled and speculated about which course Tiger had rented for his own use for a week of Masters tune up before playing a round or two at Augusta National itself the week before.  But this is Arnie’s tournament and Tiger is hurting.

This could be a death knell for his pursuit of the greatest record in golf, Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors.  Tiger is four away, five away from a new record.  It was once a given, as we all stood by waiting to just mark the moment and start the Tiger count to a new record that would never be threatened.

But that Tiger was still in his prime, when there may have never been a greater golfer ever on the planet.  There was never a chance for Tiger to face Nicklaus in his prime to know for sure, just as Muhammad Ali never got to face Rocky Marciano.  Tiger Woods is only 38, but Father Time makes exceptions for no man and it’s a 38 year old body that may have already absorbed the wear and tear normally reserved for bodies over 40, when the highly honed skills of elite golfers begin to diminish.  Knee surgery in 2008 cost him shots at two majors, a bitter pill for Tiger to swallow, and these back spasms have become all too chronic, as he was forced to walk off in the final round at the Honda Classic. He missed the secondary cut at the Farmers and finished 41st at the Dubai Desert Classic, one of his favorite venues.  His best finish this season is 25th, and he tied for that.

While he reported yesterday that’s it’s too soon to assess his status for the Masters, if Tiger doesn’t win at Augusta next month his dry spell in the majors will officially reach six full years.  His time for adding to his resume’ in the majors is rapidly fading, he’d be in very elite company if he won one after age 45, so, as one golf commentator illustrated it recently, to pass Jack, Tiger is in a position of having to cram Phil Mickelson’s entire hall of fame career into less than seven years, past his prime, with a bad back.  Even for Tiger Woods it may be just too much to ask.

This isn’t just a story about back spasms, this is a story about golf history that now may never be written.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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