Commentary

Forecast cloudy for Tiger Woods

Originally Published: March 11, 2012
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

DORAL, Fla. -- Tiger Woods sat in the driver's seat of his black Mercedes-Benz S65, the tinted windows obscuring most of his face. His caddie, Joe LaCava, sat to his right.

There would be no comment. Instead, a Miami Dade Fire Rescue vehicle, its empty stretchers poking out from the rear, pulled away from the car. Moments later, Woods was gone too, his round, his tournament and his left Achilles done for the day. Who knows what else is gone, too.

It was 4:40 Sunday afternoon when he left the Doral resort, site of the WGC-Cadillac Championship. About 10 minutes or so earlier, Woods had hit his best drive of Sunday's final round, a towering 321-yard tee shot that landed in the fairway of 12th fairway.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
AP Images/Cal Sport MediaTiger Woods appeared visibly in pain after hitting this tee shot on the par-5 12th hole Sunday at Doral. Shortly thereafter, Woods withdrew from the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

But the grimace instantly gave it away. Then came the hard lean against his driver shaft. He was hurt.

Woods waited until his playing partner Webb Simpson hit his tee shot. Then he shook hands with Simpson and said, "I've got to go in."

A cart was called and soon Woods and LaCava were taken on a back road to the players' parking lot. And then he was gone. A statement by Woods was issued later:

"I felt tightness in my left Achilles warming up this morning and it continued to get progressively worse. ... In the past, I may have tried to continue to play, but this time I decided to do what I thought was necessary."

There were no other details, other than Woods said he expects to get the Achilles evaluated soon. Hmmm.

What does it all mean? Maybe nothing, maybe a lot.

The fact that Woods limped off the course rather than grind through the final seven holes is telling. At the very least, he was in considerable pain and concerned about injuring it further. Why risk missing next month's Masters, right?

At the most, he's worried there's something more to it. Remember, a knee and Achilles strain forced him to miss four months of the 2011 season.

According to Paul Tesori, Simpson's caddie, Woods began "hobbling" while playing the fourth hole. As his limp became more noticeable, Woods changed shoes at the turn. LaCava told Tesori that Woods' Achilles was "puffed up and swollen a little bit."

Despite Woods striping his drive down the middle of the No. 12 fairway, Tesori said "you could see he gimped it through the ball. ... It actually looked like he flinched, to be honest with you. That was the first time he showed true pain, kind of in his face."

Love him or despise him, the PGA Tour needs a healthy Tiger. His impact on TV ratings, gallery size and majors buzz is tangible. Just ask Simpson, who instantly noticed the difference after Woods' departure.

"It was a bit weird," he said. "It went from one extreme to the other, from playing with all the people, to playing with no people."

The WGC-Cadillac Championship did just fine without him -- Sunday's finish was a keeper, what with Justin Rose hanging on for a win against Bubba Watson. But as good as it was, Woods draws in the casual golf fan, and even the non-fan.

"Tiger Woods has been the face of golf for the last 15 years," said Rory McIlroy, ranked No. 1 in the world and the heir obvious to Woods. "And you know, feeling like he's coming back to his best or something near his best, it's great for the game. He can spark an interest in golf that no one else can."

In something of an irony, Woods was asked a day earlier how his body was holding up this season. "Oh, it feels great," he told reporters without hesitation.

And on the range Saturday at the TPC Blue Monster, Woods was clearly feeling good about himself. He chatted happily with Australian Jason Day, discussing the advantages of living in Florida, his kids (Woods even showed Day video of Tiger's young son Charlie hitting golf balls) and his physical condition.

So after Day had completed his own round Sunday, he was stunned to learn about Woods' situation.

"Get out," said Day. He added later, "I was asking about his health and I was asking about his knee and he said he felt great. … It just seemed like he was starting to get a little bit of momentum."

Now Woods is in a medical holding pattern. It must drive him nuts.

Woods is 36. His four-time surgically repaired knee is much older. And now his Achilles is bothering him again. But there was no reason to press on Sunday. He was 3-over-par for the round and not within three zip codes of the lead.

This isn't about Woods making a swing change, this is about a body part with issues. That could add another question mark to his comeback.

Meanwhile, the tour and the Masters holds its breath. Right after the trophy presentation on the 18th green, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem probably headed to the nearest Hallmark store to buy Woods a get well card.

Golf can survive without Woods. It's done it before and it will do it again. But it's a lot more compelling with him.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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