Tiger Woods tweaks back in 78

DORAL, Fla. -- The back issues that caused Tiger Woods to withdraw from a tournament a week ago flared again Sunday, leading to a long day on the golf course and the first birdie-less final round in his career.

Woods shot a 6-over-par 78 at Doral's Blue Monster course to tumble out of contention at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and drop into a tie for 25th, nine strokes behind winner Patrick Reed.

It was a disappointing day on many levels for the top-ranked player in the world, who began the round just three strokes out of the lead.

Woods said an awkward stance from a fairway bunker at the par-4 sixth hole sent his back into spasms that were similar to what caused him to withdraw from the Honda Classic a week ago after 13 holes.

"Well, it's tough. I mean, it was just one thing that set it off,'' said Woods, referring to a shot on the sixth hole. "As I say, I had a quick turnaround from last week. Normally things like this, you shut it down for a while and then get back up and get the strength and everything developed around it.

"So it will be nice to take this week off and get everything ready for Bay Hill.''

Unlike Honda, Woods played on Sunday, but he proceeded to bogey the sixth. It was apparent he was playing in pain, and particularly troublesome seemed to be his putting stroke. He missed short birdie putts on both the eighth and 10th holes as it appeared he had trouble staying in his stance.

"Deeper the flexion, the worst it felt,'' he said. "(Hitting) the driver felt fine.''

Woods underwent treatment in the early part of the week in order to play at Doral. He did not have a full practice round, hitting only pitch shots and putts on Wednesday. He opened the tournament with his worst score ever at Doral, where he has won four times. The 76 left him well back, but he fought for a 73 in Friday's difficult windy conditions and then shot 66 on Saturday, the low round of the week.

That put him in the second-to-last group, in a tie for fourth place entering the final round. But Woods missed birdie chances at the first and second holes Sunday, had the bogeys at the third and fourth and then saw his day unravel with the awkward stance at the sixth.

"My foot was out of the bunker,'' he said. "That's what set it off and then it was done after that. Just see if I could actually manage through to keep the spasms at bay. But anything in flexion was done, so the deeper the flexion, the worse it felt.''

Woods knew the lie could potentially offer up some problems, but he said he never considered just pitching the ball out of the sand -- as opposed to taking an awkward stance and a full swing.

"It was just a simple 8 iron,'' he said. "The only thing you do on a downhill lie like that is just go forward. Should be no problem but it was a problem.''

Woods was asked several questions about the severity of the injury afterward but did not disclose details.

"It's the same thing (as the Honda)," Woods said. "If it flares up, it flares up. It's just a matter of keeping it calm, and we had a quick turnaround here from last week. It would be nice to have a week off where I can shut it down and get some treatment.''

Asked if the injury was more serious than back spasms, Woods said, "Well, it is back spasms, so we've done all the protocols and it's just a matter of keeping everything aligned so I don't go into that.''

Asked if he has had an MRI on his back, he replied: "As I said, we've done all the protocols.''

Woods is off to the worst start of his career, with a tie for 80th at the Farmers Insurance Open, a tie for 41st at the Dubai Desert Classic, the withdrawal from last week's Honda and now a tie for 25that Doral.

Woods currently has just one more tournament scheduled prior to the Masters, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill beginning March 20. In each of his four Masters victories, Woods had won at least once prior to the year's first major.

For just the eighth time in his career, Woods failed to make a birdie during a round on the PGA Tour. The last time that happened was the first round of the Tour Championship in September, when he was also suffered with back issues. Sunday was Woods' 1,096th round as a pro.

There appear to be bigger concerns for Woods at the moment, though.

"It's over,'' he said when asked to size up the day. "It's finally over. Which is good.''

As for the plan going forward, he added: "I don't know, just let me get through this day, get some treatment and we'll assess it as time goes on.''