LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- While playing his best golf of the year last month at the Wyndham Championship, Tiger Woods nonetheless appeared at times to be in discomfort. It wasn't debilitating, it wasn't agonizing, but something was amiss.
And it didn't go unnoticed, enough that he was asked about it.
One day, he joked about being "old." The next day he acknowledged being "stiff."
Then, following a final round in which he clearly favored his lower back at times, Woods attempted not to go there. He was pressed about the problem and said that his hip was bothering him. Despite attempts to get more details, Woods declined. He simply shook his head and smiled.
Now we know -- and Woods apparently didn't then -- that there was something more than just age and stiffness in play.
Woods announced on Friday that he had back surgery on Wednesday, the same microdiscetomy surgery he had to alleviate a pinched nerve on March 31, 2014. Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, confirmed that the same area needed to be addressed this time.
According to Steinberg, Woods went for a check-up this week, something that had been planned all along. He had just committed to the Frys.com Open, as well as an event later next month in Mexico, and was planning to play in his foundation's Hero World Challenge in December.
All of that has now been scuttled because of the surgery, and Steinberg said it came as a surprise. He didn't offer specifics but said Dr. Charles Rich, who performed the back surgery last year, found a problem they decided to address now to get Woods back playing golf sometime early in 2016.
"They saw something that was easily fixable at a time of year when he can get away, even though he has to skip some tournaments that he really wanted to play," Steinberg said. "If you have a window to clean it up and the doctor says this is the right time to do it, you do it."
It is possible this will quell some of the constant chatter from Woods' detractors that seems to follow him as it relates to injuries. In his statement, Woods described himself as a "fighter," and if anything, that attitude has hurt him as it relates to the various injuries he has had in recent years.
Instead of thinking Woods used these injuries as an excuse, maybe now it will be viewed as his game was suffering because of the various ailments. There have been enough problems over the past two years to suggest that Woods isn't feigning injury. Woods has never been one to reveal much about these things, and he has soldiered on when perhaps he should have stopped playing.
It is certainly fair to wonder now if he came back from the 2014 back surgery too soon. He was competing less than three months later, and in just his third tournament he had a setback that caused him to withdraw from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
After missing the cut at the PGA Championship, several months of rest and rehab followed, as well as another swing change that led to his worst season as a pro. Woods missed the cut in three consecutive major championships and failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.
And yet that tournament in Greensboro last month offered hope. Woods was tied for the 36-hole lead, was two shots back going into the final round and was still in contention with eight holes to go. That's when Woods grabbed his back after a tee shot and made a mess of the hole with poor chipping, leading to a triple-bogey 7.
He fell out of contention and yet birdied four of his last five holes to post his best finish of the year.
With time off to rest, rehab and work on his game, plus a schedule that included at least three tournaments, it seemed a good time to get his swing in shape and look forward to 2016.
"He always would have wanted to be working on his game," Steinberg said. "That remains the same as when an athlete has to step away for a period of time. But it's interesting. I'd say he's frustrated but encouraged. He feels like the [doctor] report and the initial reaction out of the procedure were pretty good. There would be no way to skirt that issue.
"In listening to him, he's encouraged that he's going to be able to hopefully get this right again and be to a place where he can just go and compete and stop having to do the fits and starts."
Unfortunately, that is where Woods had hoped to be this fall, using the opportunity to refine his swing while figuring it out in competition. For much of 2015, Woods appeared to be fine while practicing, unable to bring his game inside the ropes. He started to show signs of progress at Greensboro, but the final round showed he wasn't quite there.
Other than that last tournament and the Torrey Pines event in February from which he withdrew because of back stiffness, Woods maintained there were no back or other injury issues.
Now the entire process will be delayed again. By the time Woods tees it up for real again sometime in 2016, he will be 40 years old, some 2½ years removed from his last victory, having gone through another rehabilitation process. And then there is the issue of a golf swing that was still a work in progress without this setback.
Woods spoke positively -- as he did following the 2014 surgery -- and Steinberg suggested that this was a good thing, that an issue was identified that allows him to be pain-free and able to compete again.
Perhaps that will ultimately be the case. But Woods already faced plenty of doubts about whether he will get his game back -- doubts that now grow deeper and darker.