Tiger withdraws at TPC with neck pain

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Dressed in his Sunday red shirt, Tiger Woods bowed his head and sat in silence in front of his locker.

He was supposed to be on the ninth hole at The Players Championship. In another stunning twist for someone whose life used to be so predictable, Woods withdrew suddenly with neck pain that he fears might be a bulging disk.

Woods was so frustrated that he slammed his golf shoe to the floor while taking questions from three reporters.

"I've been playing through it," Woods said of pain he first felt before the Masters. "I can't play through it anymore."

Woods said he did not know what caused the injury, only that "playing doesn't help it." He took 10 questions before going into a physical therapy trailer for 37 minutes and leaving the TPC Sawgrass.

This is Woods' first withdrawal from a tournament since the Nissan Open at Riviera in 2006, when he narrowly made the cut and withdrew from the final two rounds because of the flu. He also withdrew from the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills as a 19-year-old amateur because of a wrist injury from hitting out of deep rough.

The only time he has mentioned his neck was during his news conference last month at the Masters.

Woods was taken to the hospital Nov. 27 after driving his SUV over a fire hydrant and into a tree, the infamous accident that set off shocking revelations of extramarital affairs that led to his five-month break from golf.

Asked at Augusta what injuries he suffered that night, Woods said, "I had a busted-up lip and a pretty sore neck, and that was it."

He didn't mention the pain when he missed the cut last week for the sixth time in his career at Quail Hollow. But it became obvious something was wrong Sunday on the par-4 seventh hole at Sawgrass.

After hitting his tee shot well right, Woods called for an official. He hit his second shot and grimaced, then walked to the middle of the fairway, shook hands with playing partner Jason Bohn and left in a golf cart. Fans gave him a warm ovation, with one man shouting, "Hurry back, Tiger."

Bohn noticed that Woods loosened his neck muscles on the first tee, but he didn't see any signs Woods was in pain until they exchanged pleasantries in the seventh fairway.

"He just said, 'I'm done,' " Bohn said. "Then I kind of inquired about it. I said, 'Are you OK?' ... I said, 'Is it your wrist?' He said, 'No, it's my neck.' I could tell when he shook his hand; he kind of stiffened up. When your neck hurts, it's pretty severe. But you could tell when he was leaving he was in pain."

The large gallery following Woods dispersed soon after he did. Bohn played the final 11 holes alone -- without all the FBI agents dressed in plain clothes, sheriff's officers and extra volunteers who followed Woods around the Stadium Course all week.

"I was a little disappointed," Bohn said jokingly after shooting an 8-over 80. "I thought they were there for me to be honest."

Woods said he plans to have an MRI this week. He said he was having a hard time with the pain, and that there was a tingling sensation on his right side down to his fingers. As he was driven from the golf course, Woods continually squeezed his right hand and released his fingers.

"I might have a bulging disk," he said.

Nearly a hundred reporters and photographers waited outside the physical therapy trailer for Woods, who was whisked away in a black SUV without taking more questions.

In light of his condition, Woods cancelled a clinic he was scheduled to host Monday at the Aronimink Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia during a media day for July's AT&T National, moved from the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., as the course undergoes renovations ahead of the 2011 U.S. Open.

Before his Nov. 27 car accident and ensuing sex scandal, Woods had been the AT&T National tournament host but is no longer serving in that capacity.

Woods will still hold a 2 p.m. news conference at Aronimik.

Woods started the final round of the Players 10 shots out of the lead and was 2-over par through six holes. He struggled on just about every hole, finding a bunker off the first tee, coming up short on several approach shots and pushing several tee shots right.

He said pain was bothering him from the time he took the club back until he finished his swing.

"Setting up over the ball is fine, but once I start making the motion, it's downhill from there," he said.

It was only his third tournament back from a five-month hiatus after he was caught having extramarital affairs. Woods tied for fourth at the Masters, then missed the cut last week at Quail Hollow with the second-highest round (79) and the highest 36-hole score (153) of his PGA Tour career.

Woods at times stretched and rolled his neck between shots over the last three days, when he produced some good golf along with some shots that didn't remotely resemble Woods. He popped up two tee shots with his 3-wood, and hit another one at a 45-degree angle. In relatively easy scoring conditions, Woods had rounds of 70-71-71 and was tied for 45th going into the last round.

On Friday, Woods was asked specifically about his left knee, for which he had season-ending surgery in 2008, and his right Achilles, which he disclosed at the Masters

Asked if he had any issues, Woods said; "No, zero. Absolutely 100 percent.'' Asked about the Achilles, he said. "No, I started back running again. Haven't had any swelling. I still feel that I'm explosive in all my exercises I'm able to do now, which I wasn't doing any of that last year. So it feels good.''

Woods didn't volunteer anything then about his neck, but his swing coach, Hank Haney, acknowledged Sunday that it had been an issue going back before the Masters.

"Tiger doesn't make excuses, but I know it has been bothering him,'' said Haney, who has not been at the TPC Sawgrass this week. "I don't know how bad. Tiger is a tough guy. He played the U.S. Open on a broken leg. So when he says something is bothering him, it's probably not real good.''

The recent injury might explain some of the puzzling distance issues Woods experienced. He was last in the field through three rounds (70 players) on the measured holes and was just 65th out of 70 in driving distance on all holes. Woods has traditionally been among the longest hitters of the ball.

Woods has won 71 times on the PGA Tour, including six victories in 2009. He has been top-ranked for nearly five years, after going back and forth with Vijay Singh during the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Bob Harig was used in this report.