By Alex Myers
On Tuesday, Tiger Woods' announcement that he had undergone successful back surgery and would miss the Masters for the first time as a pro led to two main questions: What is a microdiscectomy and how long will Woods be out of action?
We asked Dr. Andrew Hecht, the Chief of Spine Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, to answer both.
"A microdiscectomy is a treatment for someone with a disc herniation," Hecht said. "If you think of a disc like a jelly donut, the outer cover tears and the jelly comes out. That jelly starts to irritate a nerve."
Woods said in a statement he had surgery in Utah on Monday for a pinched nerve that had been bothering him for several months. The No. 1 player in the world and four-time Masters winner had to withdraw during the final round of the Honda Classic early last month before skipping the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Such an injury, according to Hecht, is often the cause of pain in the leg and buttock, as well as in the lower back. It can get better with rest, but many athletes opt to have this procedure because of its high success rate. Hecht said approximately 90 percent of elite athletes return to their former level of competition.
Of course, that will take time. Hecht said there is a gradual phase of rehabilitation followed by a more intense phase and finally the return of an athlete to activities for his/her specific sport.
"The golf swing is a very powerful, twisting motion," Hecht said. "Just because you're not getting tackled, doesn't mean you can't hurt your back."
Hecht said on average the rehab process takes three to four months. Woods could recover more quickly, but a three-month layoff wouldn't have Woods returning until the end of June, meaning he'd miss the U.S. Open in addition to the Masters. A four-month recovery would mean he'd miss the British Open as well, and anything more could result in him missing all four major championships.
In other words, Woods picked the worst time to miss a three-to-four month chunk of the season.
No two injuries are the same, of course, but Graham DeLaet is a recent example of a golfer to undergo the same surgery as Woods. He spoke about his microdiscectomy at the 2012 Sony Open:
"I had a herniated disk over to the right, so they go in and shave off a piece of that to alleviate the pinch on the nerve," DeLaet said. "I had terrible pain in my right leg. Yeah, it was not fun. I'm glad it's all over and I'm feeling great now."
DeLaet made a full recovery and was one of 2013's breakout stars when he was the best player for the International squad at the Presidents Cup. That's the good news for the 38-year-old Woods. The bad news? DeLaet had the surgery when he was 10 years younger than Woods and it essentially wiped out his entire 2011 season.
Odds are, Woods won't miss as much time as DeLaet. But due to the timing of the procedure, he could wipe out his entire major championship season. For a man so focused on golf's four biggest events, that might hurt just as much.
By John Strege
SAN ANTONIO -- Google "Phil Mickelson" and "tinkering" and more than 69,000 results turn up. Mickelson tinkers with his swing, his putting stroke, his equipment, attempting to find the square peg that fits a round hole.
This time, at the Valero Texas Open, he was tinkering with a driver swing to take to the Masters, working on a custom fit for Augusta National's generous fairway widths. He was swinging hard and hitting it high and hurt himself doing so.
Mickelson pulled an oblique muscle hitting driver on the first tee (his 10th hole) on Saturday and withdrew from the tournament. His status for the Shell Houston Open this week and even the Masters the following week is not yet known.
Couple Mickelson's injury with Tiger Woods' bulging disc and his own uncertainty about Augusta, and a question posed by Dottie Pepper recently gives one pause.
"We've been pretty spoiled with easy story lines and high expectations for a very long time. Is it time to look beyond @TigerWoods and Phil?" she wrote on Twitter.
It's not time yet -- Woods won five tournaments last year, Mickelson three, including the British Open. But sooner clearly is gaining on later, and when the day comes, the hangover golf might experience could be colossal.
Woods and Mickelson have anchored golf's marquee for nearly two decades. A television promo for the Valero Texas Open began this way: "Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy. Every week champions will rise. Every week history will be made."
The first two names have 19 major championships and 121 PGA Tour victories between them. The second duo have three majors and 16 PGA Tour wins between them. McIlroy is equipped to help fill the eventual void, but it remains an open question as to whether he will.
Woods' dominion over the game has resulted in tournaments being categorized: Tiger tournaments, those in which he played, and the others, those in which he did not play. The buzz in the former is palpable, but its falloff in the latter is usually dramatic.
Mickelson in the Tiger era, meanwhile, has always been an entertaining second fiddle, one capable of playing lead violin from time to time, and he might have been on the cusp of doing so again at Augusta.
The Texas Open was the first of what was to be a three-week run of tournament golf, culminating with the Masters. Each of the three times Mickelson won at Augusta, it was his third straight tournament. Ditto the British Open he won last year and the Players Championship he won in 2007. On the 10 occasions that he played the two weeks prior to the Masters, he finished out of the top 10 only once.
A day later, he joined Woods on the disabled list. They'll still dominate story lines in the run-up to the Masters, but by Thursday's start, we might already be looking beyond Tiger and Phil, for one week, at least.
By Alex Myers
A bad back has dominated any Tiger Woods talk of late, but a "walk-off" performance used to refer to something much different than a WD for TW. Woods' clutch play throughout his career has produced numerous "walk-off" winning putts on the final hole, and nowhere has he pulled that off more than at Bay Hill.
Woods pulled out of this year's Arnold Palmer Invitational, but those memories remain. Let's take a look, um, back.
In 2001, Woods arrived at Bay Hill in a bit of a "slump" despite having won the final three majors the previous season. He was (gasp!) winless in his first five events before arriving at Bay Hill (remember the days he used to play five events before Bay Hill?), but got on a roll that included him capping the Tiger Slam at the Masters a month later.
At Bay Hill, Woods found himself in a tie with Phil Mickelson -- they were the top two players in the world rankings at the time -- on the final hole of regulation and after a wild drive left, he hit an incredible approach shot to about 10 feet. He converted the birdie putt (:43 mark of the video) for a dramatic win, gave a huge fist pump, and celebrated with then caddie Steve Williams. Note: This will be a recurring scenario.
Fans had to wait all of seven years to see a similar finish. Woods won this event two other times in between, but he did so by a combined 15 shots. In 2008, the difference was Woods was in search of a fifth straight win. Oh, and this time it was a 25-footer and he was battling journeyman Bart Bryant instead of the No. 2 golfer in the world. Woods doesn't discriminate when it comes to his on-course victims.
"Only perfect. That's all that putt was," NBC analyst Johnny Miller said. Of course, Woods would win that year's U.S. Open and then miss the rest of the season after having surgery on his left knee. We don't think the injury stemmed from his violent cap throw celebration.
When Woods returned to Arnie's event the following year, he was still looking for proof that he could return to the player he was before the surgery. With Woods tied with Sean O'Hair on the final hole, Miller and Dan Hicks set the stage as if they knew what was going to happen next.
"He's got that beautiful cut shot, that he can aim it at the stands there and work it to the hole. And we know he can make that putt," Miller said. Good call:
"Again! At Bay Hill! On the 72nd hole!" Hicks exlaimed. "That's the way to get back into the winner's circle, isn't it?"
"The guy is absolutely out of this world," Miller added.
This year, Woods is just out of another tournament. He won't be around to author another "walk-off" putt this weekend, but you can bet that won't stop NBC from taking a stroll down memory lane.
By John Strege
The attorney for Gotta Have it Golf, the memorabilia concern that won its lawsuit against Tiger Woods' company, ETW Corporation, last week was less than impressed with Woods as a witness.
"He is kind of a smug guy, and frankly, I thought his performance was very flat," attorney Eric Isicoff told John Pacenti of South Florida's Daily Business Review.
Woods testified for more than 45 minutes last week, to no avail. An all-female jury of six ordered ETW Corp. to pay Gotta Have it Golf $668,000 in damages, a sum that conceivably could go to $1.3 million when interest is calculated.
"The only reason that [Woods] was paraded into court was because they thought there would be this celebrity awestruck reaction," Isicoff told Pacenti. "I don't think he helped his case at all. I don't think there was any celebrity reaction."
Isicoff also suggested that an all-female jury might have worked against Woods, given the high-profile scandal that rocked his life in late 2009. "Most people have had some impression on the guy," Isicoff said.
Gotta Have it Golf claimed in its lawsuit that "Woods breached a 2001 licensing agreement by not providing a specified number of autographs and photographs," the Miami Herald reported.
Have you noticed the series of stories in recent years quoting some golf authority about Tiger Woods' on-course struggles? We have. What we've also noticed is that many of these stories follow a similar template. Like this:
Tiger Woods used to be really good but now he isn't as good, a ___________ (A. disgruntled former employee / B. crusty old player / C. random guy in my foursome) said on Tuesday.
In _____________ (A. an exclusive interview / B. series of misspelled tweets / C. rant while waiting for the third green to clear ), __________ said Woods _________ (A. has lost his intimidation factor / B. doesn't practice as hard as he used to / C. "looks beatable if I got four a side. Maybe even three if my brother-in-law lent me his new driver. ")
"He used to be ______________ (hyperbolic statement about Woods making every putt) but now he _____________ (hyperbolic statement about how he can't get the ball airborne)," he said.
"What's clear is that he needs to go back to ___________ (A. "Butch" / B. "Hank" / C. "wearing mock turtlenecks.").
On the subject of whether Woods would catch Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors, ____________ said Tiger _____________ (A. "just needs that next one to get over the hump / B. "has no chance. Like none. Seriously, stop talking about this." / C. "needs to win four more, right? I just did the math in my head."
Woods' health has also been a recurring subject.
"The fact that he's been injured a lot proves he _________ ( A. "has worked out too hard" / B. "hasn't worked out enough / C. "should try power yoga. It's done wonders for my glutes.").
Despite that, ______________ said Woods is still the runaway favorite to win the Masters.
By John Strege
The best field in a tournament of which many probably have never heard, one generating unimaginable sums of money for charity, will no longer be played, unless...
Unless "bureaucratic nonsense," as former Limerick, Ireland, mayor John Gilligan called it," is jettisoned and the host is amenable to continuing it.
J.P. McManus, who often plays in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, is an Irish billionaire who every five years (starting in 1990) has hosted the J.P. McManus Invitational Pro-Am in Limerick. The 36-hole tournament has raised in excess of $100 million for charity, as much as half that coming in 2010 alone.
Among those who played in 2010 were Tiger Woods (shown above with McManus at the 2010 event), Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Adam Scott. Woods, who has grown particularly close to McManus, has played in the last three and won it in 2000.
McManus, meanwhile, runs his businesses out of Geneva, Switzerland, and must spend fewer than 183 days in Ireland to avoid paying Irish taxes. "It takes an enormous amount of time [planning the tournament] and now we have less time than we had a few years ago," McManus told the Limerick Leader last year. "The rules have changed. It used to be nights in the country. Now it's days. So if I come in at seven p.m. and go out at seven in the morning that counts as two days here."
In January, he announced that the tournament would not be played in 2015.
Now comes word that Gilligan has submitted a motion to Limerick's city council, asking that it lobby the Irish government to have his residence period in Ireland extended to allow him to continue his tournament. "Organizing a golf classic to international standards and welcoming the top golfers in the world takes a lot of time and effort," Gilligan told the Limerick Leader.
"Just how stupid can we be? Common sense dictates that people like J.P., who spend time raising money for areas and projects which the government cannot or will not fund, should be welcomed with open arms and time spent in doing this should be exempt from this bureaucratic nonsense."
Whether McManus would choose to resurrect his tournament, even should Gilligan succeed, is not known.
By John Strege
Tiger Woods does not like to lose, whatever the endeavor, and if money is involved, given his frugal tendencies, it can only compound his indignation. So consider him angry today.
Woods and his company, ETW Corp., came out on the losing end of a lawsuit filed against it by Gotta Have It Golf, Inc., a Miami memorabilia concern.
An all-female jury of six awarded Gotta Have it Golf $668,000, the Miami Herald reported today, though interest could push the sum to $1.3 million. Bruce Mathews, the owner of Gotta Have it Golf, also is attempting to recoup $1 million in attorneys' fees. ETW Corp. is expected to appeal the decision.
Mathews claimed in the suit "that Woods breached a 2001 licensing agreement by not providing a specified number of autographs and photographs," the Herald wrote.
Woods, under subpoena, had testified in the case for more than 45 minutes in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court on Monday.
"This has been a long time coming," one of Mathews' attorneys, Eric Isicoff, told the Herald. "The behavior of ETW Corporation has been reprehensible and we are very pleased with the jury's verdict."
Meanwhile, there are several Woods' items, some of them signed, available for purchase at gottahaveitgolf.com, including the display shown above, priced at $2,340.
By John Strege
Tiger Woods' former coach Hank Haney brought up an old debate Tuesday, about whether Woods once benefitted from an intimidation factor.
"I didn't buy into that when people talked about it as much as people talked about it," Haney told Golf.com during a TaylorMade outing in New York City's Times Square on Tuesday. "Tiger won because he shot the lowest score, not because he intimidated his opponents."
Nick Faldo disagreed, as this Twitter exchange showed.
Haney and Faldo, incidentally both have been consistent in their assessments over the years.
Haney, in February, 2009, in this story by ESPN's Bob Harig: "But this idea that Tiger intimidates everybody. ... I watch Tiger play every round of golf. And I don't see it. I see quite the opposite. I can give you example after example of the opposite. I see guys now who raise their game playing with him.
"If you look at the last three groups in any major championship where you see guys struggle, they are in a difficult situation anyway, regardless of whether Tiger is there. We saw that last year at the majors when he was gone. It's a difficult situation anyway.
Faldo, in September, 2011, from Sky Sports: "In the past, Tiger had such an aura, had such a presence that (rivals) used some energy consciously or sub-consciously thinking about him or seeing his name on the leader board."
Jennifer Brown, an associate professor of management and strategy at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, once did a study on the subject, her article appearing in the Journal of Political Economy beneath the title, "Quitters Never Win: The (Adverse) Incentive Effects of Competing with Superstars."
Brown, who has a PhD in agriculture and resource economics from the University of California at Berkeley, analyzed 10 years worth of PGA Tour data and concluded "that the presence of a superstar in a rank-order tournament is associated with lower competitor performance. On average, higher-skill PGA golfers' tournament scores are 0.8 strokes higher when Tiger Woods participates, relative to when Woods is absent."
Others can decide for themselves, but just remember this old quote from J.C. Snead, talking about playing with Jack Nicklaus: "He knows he's going to beat you, you know he's going to beat you, and he knows you know he's going to beat you."