Tiger Woods’ Masters preparations were thrown into a little more disarray last night when he withdrew with a back injury with five holes to play in the Honda Classic.
The world No 1 followed in the footsteps of Rory McIlroy 12 months ago, but rather than blaming a wisdom as he soared to five over par through six holes, the 14-time major winner cited back spams and there is now a question mark over his defence of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral's Blue Monster this week.
“It's my lower back with spasms,” Woods said as he took his daughter Sam’s hand and left the course. “It started this morning warming up.
“I need treatment every day until Thursday to try to calm it down. We'll see how it is. It's the same feeling I had at the Barclays last year.”
Whatever about Rory McIlroy's disappointing final round display, Woods had the excuse of his back for another worrying performance in a season that has brought an MDF in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines — he was cut after the third round — and a very modest share of 41st in the Dubai Desert Classic
After a par at the first, he missed the green at the second and failed to get up and down before racking up a double bogey seven at the third.
His tee shot sailed so far right that it splashed down in a pond few have ever seen, 40 yards right of the fairway.
After hacking back onto play following a drop, he hit his fourth over the green behind a TV tower and needed a free drop before eventually taking three more to get down, lipping out from six feet.
He then bogeyed the fourth, pulling an iron shot into the rough before airmailing the green and chipping weakly.
After a par at the fifth he snap hooked his tee shot into the water at the sixth, hit his fourth to 15 feet after a penalty drop and holed it for bogey.
Five over for the day now, he birdied the seventh from 15 feet but had to save par from five feet again at the eighth after another approach went long.
He was rubbing his back after another poor tee shot into the gallery at the ninth and bogeyed again after bunkering his approach.
He then parred the next four holes, doing stretching exercises all the while before shaking hands with playing partner Luke Guthrie after holing out on the 13th green.
While all this was going on, Graeme McDowell was jetting home to Orlando to work on his swing after adding a one-over 71 to his third round 72 to finish tied for 46th on level par.
“The game is not in good shape at all," said McDowell, who bogeyed four in a row from the fourth before playing his last 10 holes in three under. "It feels a lot further away that it is. It’s one of those ones. I just can’t put my finger on it.
“I didn’t hit a lot of great shots out there on the back nine but I found found something there and have something to work on for the next few days before Doral.
“The problem is that I am very much a feel player and it’s mostly my downswing. I have too many feels for my downswing which are all attempting to achieve the same thing.
“Some get me in the wrong position and the odd one gets me in the correct position. I have to get the balance right between being too lateral and get too under it. That’s my trouble.
“I have to get the club back out in front of me so I can cover left. I play my best golf when I can hit it hard left with the body and flight it left to right.
“It’s a timing thing now that I have to bed in because Pete Cowen’s given me all the information I need to get it done.
“He gives me the mechanics and I have to change those into playing feels now. I’l do some work in Orlando tomorrow and get to Doral on Tuesday ready to go."
Despite top 10 finishes in his first two events of the season in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the WGC-Accenture Match Play, the Rathmore man is still knocking the rust off his game.
He said: “I was scrappy at Pebble Beach, a bit rusty and the matchplay I didn’t have that left to right shot in Tucson.
“I hit my irons well when I was just hitting draws but it’s still early season. I’ve played my best golf when I have had that little left to right bleeder in the bag — like at Hilton Head.
“The par threes here, I can aim at the left half of the green and just go bang, instead of seeing it start left and then go the other way, further left.”
As for Woods, he said it was “too early to tell” if he will be fit enough to defend his title at the revamped Blue Monster this week.