Tiger faces large mountain to climb

SAN DIEGO -- The fog lifted Friday morning over Torrey Pines, the sun burning through to produce one of those picture-perfect settings that was the backdrop for so many Tiger Woods victories over the years.

Of course Woods was long gone from the place where he has won eight times, and the thought of him hoisting a trophy anytime, anywhere soon seemed about as likely as snow rolling in off the Pacific Ocean.

For the third time in his past nine worldwide starts, Woods had to withdraw from a tournament due to a back problem.

And after talking with so much optimism about 2015 just 10 days ago in Phoenix, suddenly the good vibe has been replaced by dark clouds and doubt.

"I think it would be fair to question Tiger's desire at this point," said Hank Haney, Woods' former swing coach. "And his energy level to climb the mountain. And let's face it, it's not a hill, it's a mountain now. Can he do it? Sure, he's Tiger Woods.

"But look at the shots he is hitting. If you have a bad attitude going and your competitive vibe is down a little, who wouldn't? But it's Tiger Woods. I don't think he's packed it in. I just see a lot of problems with his game."

Woods was 2 over par and on his 12th hole of the day at Torrey Pines' North course when he decided to withdraw, citing lower back problems that were caused in part by a lengthy delay due to fog.

But during that time, Woods mostly stood around on the putting green talking to other players. And when he spoke with reporters afterward, he did himself no favors by saying that his "glutes are shutting off. Then they don't activate and then it goes into my lower back.

"So I tried to active my glutes as best I could, but they just never stayed activated."

Such comments have been the source of derision, even though it would seem perfectly logical that a man who had back surgery last year and twice took significant time off because of it might have tightness in his back on a chilly day.

"It's not a re-injury of the existing disk issue, but just as he stated muscle spasms, lower trunk, whatever you want to call it," Notah Begay, Woods' longtime friend, said Thursday on Golf Channel. "And just not able to make the necessary sequences go into his mechanical motion. And it just caused a whole mess of problems. We saw it all yesterday."

Woods had trouble with all aspects of his game, hitting just one of nine fairways, but still getting plenty of distance. His iron game has not been good in his limited golf to this point, and the short-game problems have been glaring.

This came a week after he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he shot his career-worst round of 82.

Agent Mark Steinberg said there was no update on Woods' situation Friday, but if Woods' back problem is not severe, his next tournament likely would be in three weeks, at the Honda Classic near his home in Florida. Projected to fall to 59th in the Official World Golf Rankings, he would need a big week there in order to move into the top 50 and qualify for the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

"He wasn't tournament-ready this week, he wasn't tournament-ready last week," ESPN golf analyst Paul Azinger said. "His body is not ready yet and his golf game is certainly not ready.

"Now Tiger has to ask himself some serious questions. Is he on the right track? Clearly he's still stuck under it. He's hitting this block right. Generally players do that when they know they can hit a duck hook.

"You can't play at a high level with a two-way miss. Tiger's got some really tough questions to ask the guys who are working with him."

Haney noted that Woods is not lacking distance, which ought to be a good sign as it relates to his back. If his issue were severe, he would have had a tough time hitting the ball as far as he did.

That, however, is not the issue, Haney said.

"All I've heard about is speed," said Haney, referring to Woods' comments that his speed -- and hence a good bit of power -- is back. "And yet all his stats are bad. He was 186th [on the PGA Tour] in greens, 160th in scrambling, 184th from 50 to 125 yards, 169th in three-putt avoidance. What does that have to do with speed?

"That's not your problem, you can't find your ball. You can't chip it on a green from 5 yards. And I thought this guy was going to fix his back."

That would be Chris Como, Woods' new swing consultant, who was brought on board due to his background in biomechanics and the ability to help Woods produce a swing that does not put pressure on his back.

While many of those problems seem to have been alleviated in December at the Hero World Challenge and last week in Phoenix, it is unclear if the back problems that surfaced were simply a one-off deal or something more.

"He's got a lot going on," six-time major champion Nick Faldo said during Thursday's Golf Channel broadcast. "Physically he has got to get this right again. He has got to go back to the drawing board on the swing.

"He has got to find a way to swing a golf club -- especially the driver -- where the spine is not putting so much tension and torque into it. That is an absolute must."

But first he has to get healthy, and it is unclear how long that will take. Is it just a few days or is it longer? And if it is longer, will he really be in any position to compete?

"His golf game is in shambles," Azinger said. "It's sad to see that. But what we get to see is the most confident golfer of all time try to claw his way back."