Tiger's caddie, Joe LaCava, has seen this before
PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Last year at Muirfield, Steve Williams chatted up Tiger Woods during the final round of the Open Championship -- seemingly trying to extend an olive branch to his old boss. Now at home in New Zealand, the caddie says the two have yet to "bury the hatchet." While pondering which one it really is . . .
Standing away from the action, a particularly long round completed, veteran caddie Joe LaCava contemplated the back problems he witnessed while doing his job, wondering just how those good shots actually were hit.
"He never uses it as an excuse," LaCava said. "But I'll tell you flat out it's worse than people know."
But LaCava, Woods' current caddie, was not speaking about the recent back issues that caused consecutive painful Sundays for Woods.
This conversation occurred more than three years ago at Riviera, when LaCava was still working for Fred Couples, his loop of more than 20 years, and was with him when it all went wrong.
They were on the driving range warming up before the final round of the 1994 Doral-Ryder Cup when, out of nowhere, Couples fell to the ground. He was the third-round leader, but his back went out, and things were never quite the same.
Couples, then 34, missed three months due to a tear in the outer layer of a disk in his lower back. Although he returned later that year to win the Buick Open, he would win just four more PGA Tour events to run his total to 15.
Although Couples never had surgery, he did undergo numerous treatments, exercises and remedies that offered varying degrees of relief -- only to have the discomfort return.
Three years ago, at age 51, Couples was contending at Riviera and birdied the first three holes on Sunday. Then he hit his drive into deep fescue on the seventh hole and tweaked his back trying to hit the shot out. It led to a double bogey, and Couples was hampered the rest of the day.
"He doesn't whine about it," LaCava said that day. "But he is in more pain than most people know. It is a credit to him to hang in there and play. But it's exhausting to him."
Now, you can't help but wonder if LaCava's current employer faces the same fate.
This in no way suggests that Woods suffers from the same issues as Couples, who has been dealing with back problems for 20 years.
Couples' back problem started at Doral, and that's where Woods was Sunday when he attempted an awkward shot from a bunker that he says set the problems in motion again. Couples' was more severe, but Woods' had been building; he withdrew from the Honda Classic a week earlier, and had treatment all week hoping to play the WGC event.
Evans: Haney's take on Tiger
Hank Haney hasn't worked as Tiger Woods' swing coach since 2010. But that doesn't mean the famed instructor doesn't have an opinion on the 14-time major champion's recent struggles, writes Farrell Evans. Column
If he would like a more current player to relate to, Louis Oosthuizen offers an example. The 2010 Open Championship winner has what he believes to be a genetic disk issue. He has been dealing with problems for more than a year, and in 2013, he withdrew from both the U.S. Open and Open Championship and skipped the PGA Championship.
Oosthuizen said he is not in need of surgery -- it is something he simply needs to deal with. He recently had a cortisone shot. "Unfortunately, the golf swing does not help it," he said. "If I take two weeks off, everything is fine. As soon as I start hitting balls again, it's there."
To deal with it, Oosthuizen said he has been working to strengthen the area in his back while also making sure he gets proper rest and stretching. He was pleasantly surprised with a tie for 40th at Doral a week after withdrawing from the Honda Classic.
Woods said his pain stems from back spasms and has not said it is anything more than that -- although questions about doctor visits, treatment and testing have gone unanswered.
Another question likely to go unanswered: Will Woods be dealing with this for longer than the short term?
At the turn
A year ago following the Tampa Bay Championship (now the Valspar Championship) at Innisbrook, Jordan Spieth was ranked 215th in the world and Patrick Reed was 373rd. Since then, they have combined for four wins, with Reed beating Spieth in a playoff for his first. Reed now has three victories after his win Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac and is 20th in the world. Spieth, whose lone victory came at the John Deere Classic, has been a consistent performer and contender. He is now 13th.
With the Masters less than 30 days away, preparations for the year's first major are well underway -- with varying approaches. Unless there is a change of mind, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy are not likely to play again until the week prior at the Shell Houston Open. Defending champion Adam Scott will play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational next week, his last event before the Masters. That is likely the approach Tiger Woods will take, if he's healthy.
The only top-10 player in the field at this week's Valspar Championship is U.S. Open champion Justin Rose. After a run of loaded fields with two World Golf Championship events sandwiched around the Honda Classic, the golf world is now stepping back and picking its spots. After this week, only the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Valero Texas Open and Houston event remain prior to the Masters. And how players decide when and where to play can be wildly different.
"It's definitely on everybody's mind," said Rose, who is playing three weeks in a row. "Each week is important to start to develop some momentum, to get some flow going, to get some good feeling about your game. It's nice to head into Augusta having been in contention once or twice to sort of get the old juices going again."
Rose will be making his ninth appearances in the Masters and has three top-10 finishes. And while spending too much preparation at Augusta National can sometimes be a detriment, Rose said it is difficult to avoid.
"It's an amazing experience doing it for the [ninth] time, to be honest with you," he said. "It's one of the few tournaments that you play practice rounds even though you don't need to play practice rounds.
"You know the course and your strategy but you can't help yourself getting out there on that golf course."
>1. Patrick Reed. Three wins in 14 events and now 20th in the world. Good stuff from the winner of the WGC-Cadillac Championship -- who didn't mind telling the world it was good stuff.
2. Jamie Donaldson. The Welshman is now eligible to accept special temporary membership on the PGA Tour after earning 258 FedEx Cup points for his tie for second. That put him past the 150th finisher last year and means he can accept unlimited sponsor exemptions in an attempt to become a full member for next season.
3. Torrey Pines. The site of the annual PGA Tour stop is apparently going to get its second U.S. Open in 2021.
1. Tiger Woods. Another strong Saturday round followed by back problems leaves a lot of unanswered questions concerning the No. 1-ranked player's health and ability to contend.
2. Doral setup. The new Doral is a big improvement, but the first-year venue needed a bit of an easier setup in brutal conditions Friday, when the average score was 76.
3. Ian Poulter. His Twitter rant against Hideki Matsuyama was a bit over the top. Not to condone Matsuyama's actions -- he took a chunk out of a green in anger -- but Poults, who shot 78 that day and was a bit frustrated himself, could have taken out his ire behind closed doors.
Russell Knox has the choice of playing for either the United States or European Ryder Cup teams. At this point, it's a long shot in either case, but the runner-up at the Honda Classic has a decision to make if it comes to that.
Knox was born and grew up in Scotland but his father is an American. Thus, as the Sunday Post in Scotland pointed out, he has dual citizenship and is in position to play for either side. The PGA of America has no stipulation that a member be born in the United States to compete, but he must declare in advance which side he would represent.
As it relates to Europe, Knox would need to first join the European Tour, something he has yet to do. And he'd have to do it by the spring to have any chance. Knox is not listed on the U.S. points standings but would be right there with the likes of Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker.
Patrick Reed's WGC victory gave him three wins in his first 51 career PGA Tour events. At age 23, he became the youngest winner of a WGC event, eclipsing Tiger Woods, who was a few days older when he won the WGC-Bridgestone in 1999. ... Reed is now one of four players under 25 with multiple wins, joining Rory McIlroy (six), Russell Henley (two) and Harris English (two). ... Reed's total of 284 was the highest winning score at Doral since Mark McCumber was also 4 under in 1985. ... Defending Valspar champion Kevin Streelman is going into the tournament having not missed a cut in seven starts this season. ... The tournament has two major champions from last year, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner. ... Jordan Spieth is back after a tie for seventh last year, a result that earned him special temporary membership status on the PGA Tour. ... Ernie Els is making his fifth appearance in the tournament at Innisbrook.
"I don't see a lot of guys that have done that besides Tiger Woods and the legends of the game. I believe in myself, especially with how hard I've worked. I'm one of the top five players in the world. I feel like I've proven myself." -- Patrick Reed, who has won three tournaments on the PGA Tour in his past 14 starts, after his win Sunday at Doral.