Tiger holding out hope for Masters

The news drips out in words, short sentences, not paragraphs. No substance, less detail, more questions that can't be answered.

Tiger Woods took one query about his aching back at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday and offered up only that it's "too soon" to make a call on whether he can play the Masters and that the situation is "frustrating."

There you go.

The positive view: Woods has yet to close the door on the possibility of playing, and if he didn't hold out hope, why not just shut it down now?

The negative view: His comments Monday were not upbeat and suggested that, if the Masters were this week, he wouldn't be able to play.

Of course, the Masters is still 17 days away. Woods has never missed the year's first major championship since he started playing it as an amateur in 1995, meaning that this would be his 20th Masters and that, at age 38, he's been playing the tournament for more than half his life.

Since turning pro, Woods has won the tournament four times, finishing among the top 10 in 13 of his 17 appearances. He also has 11 top-5s, including last year's tie for fourth.

Woods at least was able to participate in a putting photo-op with military members as part of the news conference Monday to announce Quicken Loans as the new sponsor for the 8-year-old tournament that benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.

He later told The Washington Post that all he's been able to do since the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship on March 9 is chip and putt and that he holds out hope because he won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines without the proper preparation after a broken tibia and pending knee surgery.

But Woods was a different golfer in 2008. He had won three of the five tournaments he played that year. His game was so good that Woods defied doctors' advice to skip the U.S. Open.

That is not the case at the moment. Woods' game was off before his back started bothering him. He tied for 80th at Torrey Pines, then tied for 41st in Dubai. The injury problems surfaced before the final round at the Honda Classic, a day after shooting 65. After a few days of rest and rehab, Woods played all four rounds at Doral, but the back issues flared again in the final round; just 3 shots out of the lead after a third-round 66, Woods didn't make a birdie and carded a 78.

Since then, he has had to withdraw from the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament he has won eight times.

And, if he is unable to practice properly, it makes his task at Augusta National all the more difficult.

That is likely the source of his frustration. Plus the fact that he was very much looking forward to the major championship venues this year.

"I've won at every one except Pinehurst," Woods said at his World Challenge event in December. "And I'm trending in the right way. I've finished third, second... you get the picture, right? OK. So, I'm looking forward to the major championships. They have set up well for me over the years, and I look forward to it."

Woods was referring to the U.S. Open site, where he was in contention in 1999 and 2005. He has won four times at Augusta National, the last in 2005. And he won the last Open Championship played at Royal Liverpool (2006) and PGA Championship at Valhalla (2000).

Of course, none of that matters if he isn't healthy or if his game is not up to standard -- hence the continued concern leading up to the Masters.