Tiger Woods said he still aspires to play in next week's Players Championship after dropping out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a neck strain. New NBC broadcaster Paul Azinger isn't as bullish.
Speaking to USA Today's Steve DiMeglio, the former PGA champ expressed doubt and worry about the future of 14-time major winner.
“His neck issue, that’s a serious issue I feel,” Azinger told DiMeglio Friday at Bay Hill. “Because if your neck doesn’t flow the way you want, that’s trouble.”
On Tuesday Rory McIlroy noted Woods was dealing with the problem at least two weeks ago, observing Tiger receiving treatment at the WGC-Mexico Championship. Azinger, who worked that tournament, also noticed the 43-year-old in discomfort that week.
“It looked like the whole (swing motion) wasn’t all going together," Azinger said. "You could see he was trying to save his swing, and it could have been that his neck wasn’t right,” Azinger said. “You get in there and your head’s in a spot and you rotate up and he looked like he was (protecting himself). You can’t play with that.
“I’m hoping he just didn’t want to take a chance, and that it’s not something serious. We’ll know pretty quickly if he shows up (at The Players). We’ll know pretty quickly how serious it is. We’ll just hold our breath and hope he gets out there and plays.”
Woods dealt with a similar strain last year at the Open Championship, showing up for his first round with KT Tape on his neck. It proved not to be much of a hinderance at Carnoustie, as Woods flirted with the claret jug before ultimately finishing T-6.
As for the question of whether this neck condition is cause for concern, experts say not necessarily—even if is indirectly tied to the back injuries that temporarily derailed Woods' career.
“I don’t think it’s anything major,” Dr. Ara Suppiah, a physician to several PGA Tour players, told Golf Digest. “I’d say most likely it’s a muscular issue and here’s why: If you have a fused spine, different parts of the body suddenly have to pick up the slack for that lack of mobility, and those compensations can lead to issues in other places. And a neck issue is a real issue for a golfer. The head stays still for a good portion of the swing but not all of it. And when it does have to move, any pain or discomfort can really affect the golf swing.”
Azinger expressed hope that Woods will be okay. Because if he's not, Azinger doesn't envision Tiger inside the ropes going forward.
“I just feel like in his head, if he can’t get after it full gear, he’ll stop,” Azinger said. “He doesn’t have to play. He wants to play and there’s a big difference. As long as he wants to play, he’s going to do everything he can to get back.
“Sadly, you’ve got the most fit player who ever played and he’s kind of relying on an unfit body. How did that happen? It happened. Nobody looked better than him, nobody was as fit as him and holy cow the next thing you know he’s getting hurt.
“I’m all about being fit but it’s no guarantee for longevity.”