Golf World MondayMarch 2, 2014

Bumpy Rides For Tiger And Rory At The Honda Classic

Woods withdrew after 13 holes on Sunday with a bad back.

Woods withdrew after 13 holes on Sunday with a bad back.

Tiger Woods was home on Jupiter Island nursing a bad back by the time Rory McIlroy was playing a bad back nine at PGA National. Woods' spasms are chronic; McIlroy's uncharacteristic.

The only time McIlroy blew a 54-hole lead in the United States in four previous tries was his collapse at the 2011 Masters. It wasn't like Woods' 53-for-57 record protecting Sunday leads, but considering the players in contention, and the fact McIlroy won the 2012 Honda Classic, this potential victory looked like a win-win.

Related: Tiger and Rory have followed similar career paths

For McIlroy, a win would signify his comeback was complete and soften some of the rough edges left by last year's withdrawal at the Honda for what was officially described as a toothache.

For the Honda, a hometown win for the Palm Beach Gardens resident would give the tournament another boost of star power in its ascent as a premier event on the PGA Tour.

Instead, with McIlroy shooting 74 and losing in a playoff to a worthy champion in Russell Henley, this turned out like a root canal for the Northern Irishman. "You know, even if I had had won, it would have felt a little bit undeserved in a way," McIlroy said. "I mean, look, I counted myself very fortunate even to be in the playoff."

You have to admire the kid's honesty and also his perspective. He had a putt to win the tournament after a towering 245-yard fairway wood on the 72nd hole, and fanned it. This was his third stroke play event this year, and he has been in contention three times, finishing T-2 in Abu Dhabi with a final-round 68 and T-9 in Dubai, where he admittedly tried too hard on Sunday. "I just need to pick myself up and get back at it, go down to Doral and try to put myself in a position to win and see if I can do a better job," McIlroy said.

As for Woods, this was his third stroke-play event of the year, and he has not been in contention in any of them. He opened with a T-80 in the Farmers Insurance Open, flew across the globe for a T-41 in the Dubai Desert Classic, and drove away from the Honda in an SUV after his sixth WD in 297 PGA Tour events as a pro.

Walking gingerly to his car, slightly bent over, favoring his injury, Woods was clearly not taking any chances with the Masters six weeks away. This was a recurring issue that Woods dealt with during the 2013 FedEx Cup playoffs, when he gutted out a T-2 at the Barclays and took seven weeks off after the Turkish Airlines Open -- followed by another six weeks after Zach Johnson beat him in the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge.

Related: A side-by-side look at the swings of Tiger and Rory

"If you're hurting, you're hurting," playing partner Luke Guthrie said. Truth is, Woods' golf game is hurting at a time when he least needs it.

"It's too early to tell," Woods said about the severity of the injury, and his prospects of playing in this week's WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

As for the season, it's not too early to conclude that the two biggest stars in the game have their issues -- some worse than others.