By Benjamin Block
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Oh, the pain.
Tiger Woods vacated a tie for 121st place at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Friday morning, withdrawing because of back spasms that flared up shortly after he carded a chilling first-round 5-over-par 77, which included five bogeys, zero birdies and 33 putts.
Yet before deciding his fate Thursday evening, Woods excoriated those asking whether he shot the bloated number because he was in any discomfort.
“I wasn’t in pain at all,” he assured reporters.
Ever since his 16-hour non-stop commercial flight from Los Angeles to the United Arab Emirates touched down at 3 a.m. Dubai time on Tuesday, Woods peppered the media with an optimistic spin.
Quelling all persistent armchair doctors with calculated witticism, he offered reassurance such as, “For me, it’s about preparation,” and how his new swing design is to “play away from pain,” and that he’ll be fine “as long as I don’t feel that nerve pain again.”
Fortunately for him, Friday’s pain wasn’t nerve related, but it also wasn’t pain worth playing through.
A dejected and disappointed Woods apologized personally to playing partners Danny Willett and Matthew Fitzpatrick, but the 14-time major champion had his agent, Mark Steinberg, address the public to explain the genesis behind the withdrawal.
“He felt okay coming off the golf course yesterday,” Steinberg said. “He said he was okay before dinner last night, but went into a spasm in his lower back fairly late last night after dinner. He tried to work it out, but didn’t get it worked out.”
The announcement surfaced at 11:31 a.m. Dubai time — about one hour before Woods’ scheduled second-round tee time — via the official Twitter account of the European Tour. The timing of the decision validated Steinberg’s statement that Woods tried everything he could to give it a go.
Winds up to 30 miles per hour were expected for the second day in the desert, which also likely influenced his decision.
However, now the only thing twisting in the wind is his future.
Woods has fallen to the depths of 666th in the World Golf Rankings, and he suddenly has more looming questions than whether or not he can compete at the Genesis Open in two weeks and the Honda Classic the following week.
But upon arriving in Dubai, the prospect of injuries or physical limitations seemed the furthest thing from his mind.
“One of the reasons why I’m playing four out of five (weeks) here is to get more competitive rounds so that come the first full week in April, I’ll have more rounds under my belt and know what it feels like to be ready,” Woods said in obvious reference to the Masters, a tournament he has won four times but not since 2005.
Either he was trying to convince himself of that, or sway those still on the fence about him, because his actions leading up to this week’s tournament, and subsequent withdrawal, were completely contrary.
His gait and posture appeared more ramrod than usual, and he displayed a pronounced deliberation over mundane actions like plucking the ball out of the hole, or navigating the desert’s uneven terrain.
Instead, he was relegated to focusing his Thursday press conference to point out pivotal moments that he couldn’t capitalize on.
“I kept telling (caddie) Joey (LaCava), if we could get to even par at the turn, we have (No.) 2 drivable, 3 short, come on, maybe we can get to under par for the round, we can get this thing going, get it moving. And it just never materialized,” Woods lamented.
In the three rounds he has played in 2017, Tiger Woods has shot a 76, 72 and 77. He missed the cut at Torrey Pines, and was on his way to doing the same in Dubai.
If his attendance at the Genesis Open and Honda Classic are in jeopardy, then a Masters appearance now feels like it’s on life support.
But even before his withdrawal Friday, Woods hasn’t given fans reason to believe that he’ll ever win again on tour, at least not since he captured the 2013 PGA Tour Player of the Year Award.
Unfortunately, Friday’s setback was the same song, just at a different venue.
Follow Benjamin on Twitter at @benjaminblock21