Tiger still upbeat despite even more back injury heartache
Tiger Woods faces further questions about his future despite being optimistic of a "strong" recovery following his latest demoralising injury withdrawal.
Woods insisted he had not suffered an injury setback after an opening 77 in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the 14-time major winner failing to card a single birdie at Emirates Golf Club.
However, the 41-year-old pulled out of what was just his third event since August 2015 before the start of yesterday's second round due to a back spasm, raising further speculation that he is close to the end of his stellar career.
In his first 322 starts as a professional, Woods withdrew from just five events. In his last 19, he has withdrawn four times.
The former world number one is now ranked outside the top 650 and without a win since 2013, while his last major title came in the 2008 US Open.
"He can't get the spasm to calm down," Woods' agent Mark Steinberg said in Dubai. "He can move around, he just can't make a full rotation on the swing."
Woods said on Wednesday that his latest swing has been designed to "play away" from the nerve pain caused by a back injury which required three operations in the space of 19 months.
"Spasms are a funny thing," Steinberg added. "I'm certainly no doctor but they come and go. The fact that he feels though it's not the nerve pain, that's very encouraging for him.
"He's got to get the spasm to calm down. He has his trainer here which is good. That's who has been working on him for the past several hours.
"He'll get it to calm down and, forget about the long term, the short-term prognosis he thinks hopefully will be strong, based on the fact that it's not that nerve pain."
Steinberg said Woods had not been in pain during or after his opening round, but admitted the long flight from California to Dubai could have been a factor.
"I'm sure there are so many different factors that could play into it," he added. "He doesn't have the strongest back in the world, so it's probably easier to spasm because of the issues he's had.
"But he wanted to be here. He wants to be here and just feels terrible he can't finish it out."
Woods did not look 100 per cent fit at various points during his opening round, climbing gingerly out of a greenside bunker on his first hole and notably grimacing as he walked off the tee on the seventh, his 16th.
"No, I wasn't in pain at all," Woods said at the time.
"I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn't doing a very good job. At the end I finally hit some good ones but the damage had already been done."
Woods had never finished outside the top five in his first five appearances in Dubai, lifting the trophy in 2006 and 2008 and enjoying a scoring average of 68.71.
But his opening 77 had left him with a massive task to avoid a second missed cut in a row after making an early exit from his first PGA Tour event since August 2015 in San Diego last week.
It remains to be seen how serious the setback is, with Woods set to have a week off before competing in the Genesis Open at Riviera and the Honda Classic at PGA National.
He at least avoided risking further damage and another high score as play was suspended due to high winds in mid-afternoon, with South Africa's George Coetzee a shot ahead of Sergio Garcia after eight holes.
Ulsterman Graeme McDowell is also well in the mix at four under par after his first round 68.