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Woods facing a problem with no solution

ESPN staff
March 13, 2012

Dead man limping?

After his latest injury setback, Tiger Woods has sparked a fresh round of concerns about his short and long-term future in golf.

Woods withdrew midway through the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral on Sunday, citing a problem with his left leg - a limb that has had its fair share of problems through the years. His departure immediately left observers fearing the worst, although he later dispelled the greatest of those fears by intimating he should be back at next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

"Got good news from doc tonight. Only mild strain of left Achilles," Woods posted on Twitter on Monday. "Can resume hitting balls late in week and hopeful for next week."

As we wrote about after the Masters last year, Tiger Woods is in an increasingly difficult position - he still has so much he wants to achieve in golf, but he cannot be sure he has the body to enable him to pursue those goals.

Years of putting in the hard yards on the driving range and in the gym brought him the reward of 14 major titles (that's how he measures his professional career, so we should too) and a position as arguably the premier athlete in sport.

Yet those same hard yards have now left him with legs - particularly the left one - that can no longer carry the weight. He's in a quandary - he needs to put in serious practice to maximise his ability and deal with the rising tide of young stars (*cough* Rory McIlroy *cough*), yet if he puts in too much practice there is a real chance his body will break done and leave him on the sidelines.

His ridiculous golf shoes - basically watered-down running shoes with a bit more cushioning and some softspikes in the base - are one way he has attempted to solve the problem. Working with Sean Foley to reduce the stress placed on his lower body as much as possible (as it turns out ... not that much) is another.

Rose about to truly bloom?

Justin Rose hoists the trophy © Getty Images
  • Justin Rose moved up to No. 7 in the world rankings after his impressive victory in Florida last weekend. With four PGA Tour victories to his name, he is quickly becoming one of the more successful British players on American soil.
  • The task now is for the 31-year-old to take that winning ability to a major championship. He has credited a more relaxed attitude for his belated success, but the proof of that will only come in the biggest arena of all. Previously having grown tight when on the verge of major contention, it will be interesting - and illuminating as to his long-term prospects - to see how he reacts next time he makes it to the top of a major leaderboard. Next month?

But there are only so many preventative measures you can employ, and there is no guarantee they will do the trick. What about the next time Tiger has to take an awkward stance to play a shot (as sparked his latest round of injury concerns at Augusta last year)? Or, more alarmingly, what if last Sunday was not a one-off occurrence, and his body could break down with no warning or underlying cause?

Such setbacks, if they become any more frequent than they already are - aren't just going to take their toll on the standard of his golf game, they are going to start playing on his mind. It's hard to trust your swing when you have been spraying the ball all over the shop; it's even harder to trust it when at the back of your mind you worry it could lead to another injury lay-off.

Woods is notoriously reticent to offer accurate details about the true extent of any ailment he may have, meaning probably only his doctor and he know the true extent of his problems at any one time. What we do know about Woods, though, is that he would not have withdrawn if the injury had occurred while he was in contention for a major title. Just as he did at the US Open in 2008, he would have pushed through the pain (at the risk of more damage being done) to continue his tilt at becoming the greatest of all-time.

Following that logic, it's likely Woods opted for precautionary measures last weekend - with the Masters looming, he did not want to create any risk of him being unable to play in it. As time runs out to reach 19 major titles, Augusta National is the most important hunting ground left for him.

The Masters remains Woods' best chance of overhauling Jack Nicklaus' tally - he has finished in the top six at the event each of the last seven years, despite not always having ideal preparation in the run-up. The sole major played at the same course every year, Woods can almost get by on course knowledge alone - even if his swing isn't quite in the groove. If he were to get the five titles he needs to overcome Nicklaus, you imagine three of those would come in the form of fresh Green Jackets.

But he's not even going to get one of those if he can't get himself in condition to tee it up on the first Thursday. And that's no longer the shoo-in it once was.

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