PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida — Tiger Woods withdrew from The Players Championship on Sunday with an injury that he fears might be a bulging disk in his upper back.
“I’ve been playing with a bad neck for about a month,” Woods said.
After hitting his drive well to the right on the seventh hole, Woods called for an official. He hit his second shot and grimaced, then walked to the middle of the fairway to shake hands with playing partner Jason Bohn before leaving on a golf cart.
Woods had his head bowed for several minutes as he sat in front of his locker, and other times kept his eyes closed as if he were in the middle of a nap before answering questions from three reporters. At one point, he slammed his golf shoe to the ground.
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“I’ve been playing through it,” Woods said quietly. “I can’t play through it anymore.”
He said he first felt the injury before the Masters and plans to have an MRI next week. He said he was having a hard time with the pain, and that there was a tingling sensation on his right side down to his fingers. As he was driven off in a golf cart, Woods continuing squeezed his right hand and released his fingers.
“I might have a bulging disk,” he said.
Woods said he does not know what caused the injury, only that “playing doesn’t help it.”
By withdrawing in the middle of the round, Woods no longer is eligible for the Vardon Trophy, awarded each year for the lowest adjusted scoring average on the PGA Tour. He has won the award eight times.
“I knew his neck had been bothering him but Tiger doesn’t ever make excuses, so it was hatd (hard) to tell just how bad it was,” swing coach Hank Haney said in a text message to The Associated Press. “Having said that he won the US Open on a broken leg and if he couldn’t play anymore today it must be pretty bad.”
Woods left the locker room and headed to a physical therapy trailer. He spent 37 minutes inside, then got whisked away from the course in a black SUV.
Bohn noticed that Woods loosened his neck muscles on the first tee, but he didn’t see any signs Woods was in pain until they exchanged pleasantries in the seventh fairway.
“He just said, ‘I”m done,’” Bohn said. “Then I kind of inquired about it. I said, ‘Are you OK? … I said, ‘Is it your wrist?’ He said, ‘No, it’s my neck.’ I could tell when he shook his hand; he kind of stiffened up. When your neck hurts, it’s pretty severe. But you could tell when he was leaving he was in pain.”
The large gallery following Woods dispersed soon after he did. Bohn played the final 11 holes alone — without all the FBI agents dressed in plain clothes, sheriff’s officers and extra volunteers who followed Woods around the Stadium Course all week.
“I was a little disappointed,” Bohn said jokingly after shooting an 8-over 80. “I thought they were there for me to be honest.”
Nearly a hundred reporters and photographers waited outside the physical therapy trailer for Woods, who was whisked away in a black SUV without taking more questions.
It is the first time he has withdrawn from a tournament since the Nissan Open at Riviera in 2006, when he narrowly made the cut and withdrew from the final two rounds because of the flu. He also withdrew from the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills has a 19-year-old amateur because of a wrist injury from hitting out of deep rough.
Woods started the final round 10 shots out of the lead and was 2 over through six holes
It was only his third tournament back from a five-month hiatus after he was caught having extramarital affairs. Woods tied for fourth at the Masters, then missed the cut last week at Quail Hollow with the second-highest round (79) and the highest 36-hole score (153) of his PGA Tour career.
Woods at times stretched and rolled his neck between shots over the last three days, when he produced some good golf along with some shots that didn’t remotely resemble the No. 1 player in the world. He popped up two tee shots with his 3-wood, and hit another one at a 45-degree angle. In relatively easy scoring conditions, Woods had rounds of 70-71-71 and was tied for 45th going into the last round.
He left as the No. 1 player in the world. Whether he stays there depends on Phil Mickelson, who teed off later Sunday and had to win the tournament to reach No. 1 for the first time in his career.