Anyone who witnessed Tiger Woods bunt it around for a five over 77 in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic could hardly have been surprised that he withdrew before teeing off on day two.
The European Tour made the announcement two hours before Woods was due on the 1st tee to start the day near the tail of the field, 12 shots behind overnight leader Sergio Garcia and a 500-1 chance of winning the tournament.
The 14-time Major Champion was making his second tournament appearance in as many weeks after missing the cut last week at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. There were times during his lacklustre birdie-less opening round that he appeared uncomfortable and out of sorts.
It was certainly a far cry from the Tiger Woods that made his long-awaited return to the game in the Bahamas before Christmas. It was a lifetime away from the Tiger Woods that dominated the game, overpowered golf courses and made opponents choke at his very presence on the leaderboard.
But the 41-year-old insisted after his first round that he was not in any pain while out on the course and there was no issue with his back.
“I wasn’t in pain at all. I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn’t doing a very good job,” the two-time Desert Classic winner said after his first round. “At the end, I finally hit some good ones but the damage had already been done. On top of that, I could have hung in there, I could have shot something near even par if I would have made some putts, but I made nothing.
“I left probably about 16 putts short. I just couldn’t get the speed of these things. I just could not hit the putts hard enough. I left every putt short.”
Hours later, according to his agent Mark Steinberg, Woods suffered a back spasm but it was nothing related to the injury that has seen him undergo three back surgeries since 2014 and side-lined him for 15 months until last December.
"He felt okay coming off the golf course yesterday so he wasn't in pain," Steinberg told the Associated Press.
"I didn't see him at dinner but he said he was okay and went into a spasm in his lower back, fairly late last night after dinner. He tried to work it out last night, didn't really get it worked out. He had treatment starting pretty early this morning for probably the past three, three and a half hours.
"He says it's not the nerve pain that's kept him out for so long. He says it's a back spasm and he just can't get the spasm to calm down. So that's where we are.
“He doesn't have the strongest back in the world so it's probably easier to spasm because of the issues he's had. The short-term prognosis, he thinks, hopefully will be strong, based on the fact it's not that nerve pain I just alluded to." – Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg.
“He feels terrible, talked to Matthew (Fitzpatrick) and Danny (Willett), he feels awful and he feels terrible for the tournament. He wanted to be here. He wants to be here. He just feels terrible that he can't, you know, finish it out today.
"He can move around, he can't make a full rotation on the swing. The fact that he feels as though it's not the nerve pain, that's very encouraging for him. He's had some spasms before, no doubt about it.”
Woods' first competitive rounds after his lengthy rehab were at the Hero World Challenge in December when he finished 15th in an 18-man field. But there were promising signs as he threw a flawless seven under 65 among three middle of the road rounds. He made 24 birdies over the four days – more than any other player in the field. Tiger was back, or so it seemed.
At Torrey Pines last week he was crooked from tee to green and missed a bunch of putts he would have holed in his sleep in another time and place.
In Dubai, it wasn’t so much the fact he never seemed likely to make a birdie, it was more how Woods looked between shots. He walked gingerly. His posture was upright and stiff looking. He looked like a guy nursing a back injury as he walked methodically across uneven ground.
Then came the Friday morning withdrawal and, with it, the question most will be asking: Is Tiger done?
The experts can pick his swing to pieces (and they will over the next few days for sure) but the rubbish Woods dished up on the greens during the opening round in Dubai was of more concern. Perhaps he was feeling pain in his back, which distracted and hampered him with the flatstick. He putted like a man wearing a blindfold, not one of the best putters ever to play the game.
The winner of 79 PGA Tour titles is due to play at the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club starting on February 16. He’s also committed to play the Honda Classic in Palm Beach, Florida, the following week.
Whether the comeback continues in LA remains to be seen. It is something he might want to think long and hard about on the 17-hour flight home from Dubai.