Rory McIlroy says Tiger Woods' 11th-hour withdrawal from the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational is not cause for long-term injury concern.
Woods, a record eight-time winner at Bay Hill, announced his withdrawal on Monday from the event in the Orlando area – citing a "neck strain that I've had for a few weeks".
Considering 14-time major winner Woods underwent spinal fusion surgery in 2017, the latest ailment in a long list of injuries and procedures, many feared the neck strain could be serious.
But defending champion McIlroy said he held no fears another injury could push Woods closer to retirement.
"Nope," McIlroy told reporters at Bay Hill on Tuesday.
Woods walked gingerly during his past two starts at the World Golf Championship event in Mexico and the Genesis Open in Los Angeles.
Although he tied 15th in LA and earned a top-10 result in Mexico, several players saw him undergo extra physiotherapy after rounds.
But four-time major winner McIlroy insisted that was par for the course for the 43-year-old Woods, who has had four back surgeries.
"I hope he's OK," McIlroy said.
"I saw him in Mexico getting treatment before and after he played; he did have some tape on his upper back."
RIGHT: Leishman, who won at Bay Hill in 2017, says the absence of Woods will be noticeable. PHOTO: Harry How/Getty Images.
Woods's withdrawal also raised the concern he may not play at next week's elite Players Championship, given he conceded in his Twitter announcement that he "hopes to be ready for the Players".
Victorian World No.18 Marc Leishman, the 2017 winner at Bay Hill, admitted the absence of Woods would be noticeable.
"Tiger adds to any tournament; it wouldn't be fair to Tiger to say it won't affect the event because I think the crowds might be a little smaller," Leishman said.
"I know if he could be here, he would ... but the field is strong enough to be alright."
Leishman is referring to the fact that six of the world's top 10 players and 13 of the top 20 will tee up this week.
That includes Australia's 2016 winner Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and McIlroy.
The Palmer Invitational is an elite event which awards a three-year PGA Tour exemption to the winner – an extra year compared to regular wins.
BIG NAMES AT THE ARNOLD PALMER INVITATIONAL
Rory McIlroy – World No.6; won the 2018 event by three shots.
Jason Day – World No.11 and 2016 winner at Bay Hill.
Justin Rose – World No.2 who has six top-15 results in his past seven starts at Bay Hill.
Henrik Stenson - 2016 Open champion who has four top-five finishes in his past five starts at Bay Hill.
Marc Leishman – the 2017 champion has posted four top-five results on the PGA Tour this season, including a win at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
Phil Mickelson – has a win (Pebble Beach Pro-Am) and a runner-up (Desert Classic) on the PGA Tour this season.
- Evin Priest, Australian Associated Press