JERSEY CITY — Tiger Woods withdrew from the Northern Trust on Friday morning, a few hours before his 12:33 p.m. tee time, citing a mild oblique sprain. It is the first time that he has failed to finish an event that he started since he returned to competitive golf last year from spinal fusion surgery, which he described as “a last resort” after three less complex operations.
The last time Woods, 43, pulled out of a PGA Tour event after the action started was at the Farmers Insurance Open in 2015. By the end of that year he had undergone two back procedures. He also withdrew after the first day of a tournament in Dubai in 2017.
Coming into this week, Woods had played just 12 competitive rounds since he won the Masters this year for his first major title since 2008. He said he has been limited in how much he can practice or play without feeling more than the usual amount of pain or risking another injury that would probably end his career and perhaps even compromise his quality of life off the course.
Woods played nine holes Tuesday, then woke up Wednesday feeling stiff, which prompted him to refrain from hitting any shots with woods or irons during most of the back nine of his pro-am round. He walked alongside his amateur partners and struck putts and chips. The last time Woods played at this course, in the 2013 FedEx Cup playoffs, he experienced back spasms during his final round, and after one shot, from the 13th fairway, he fell to his knees in agony.
On Thursday, Woods showed no such discomfort during his round of four-over 75 at Liberty National Golf Club in the opening round of this year’s first FedEx Cup playoff event. Aside from stretching his lower back in the tee box before his first shot, he appeared fine. After the round, Woods said his back was “a little bit stiff,” and added, “but that’s just the way it’s going to be.”
He sat 13 strokes off the lead going into the second round, and he knew he would have to shoot a low score Friday to survive the 36-hole cut. After waking up with what he termed “pain and stiffness,” Woods sought treatment in the morning in an effort to be able to play.
“But unfortunately I’m still unable to compete,” he said in a statement released by the PGA Tour.
Jordan Spieth, who opened with a 67, was in the middle of a second-round charge Friday morning when the phones of fans in his gallery started to buzz with news alerts. Several people peeled away from his group as the word began to spread that Woods had withdrawn.
“I know what I heard when I got here was that he was struggling with his back a little bit,” Spieth said after signing for a 64 and a 36-hole total of 10 under. Referring to Woods’s back spasms in 2013, Spieth added, “Certainly if you have that kind of memories, that’s not going to make anything better.”
Woods’s next scheduled start is next week’s BMW Championship. Woods, an 81-time PGA Tour champion, needs to play well at that event to advance to the third and final playoff event, the 30-man Tour Championship, which he won last year.
“I remain hopeful I can compete next week,” Woods said.