The Masters 2014: This time, Tiger Woods will find it harder to reach first at Augusta

With the first major of the season three weeks away, will the world No 1's back be up to the challenge?

The first major of the season, the Masters, tees off three weeks on Thursday. After the palliative treatment applied a year ago to keep Tiger Woods in the tournament perhaps a call to Fred Ridley, chairman of the competition committee, is in order to see if he has any advice on how best to escape the perils of the bad back that has forced Tiger's withdrawal at Bay Hill this week.

The lower lumbar region is the rules conundrum of the medical profession. No one really knows how it works. Even the experts muddle along in a fug of guesswork and inadequate funding. Woods could be right as rain tomorrow; similarly he could be labouring for a month waiting for the vertebrae and ligaments to drop in the right place.

Woods' back is particularly mystifying. It first had him in trouble at the Barclays during the Fed-Ex Cup last September and flared again three weeks ago at the Honda Classic, where, after shooting a 65 on the Saturday, he completed only 13 holes the following day and was plenty over par when he called it quits.

Cynics among us wondered if the pain was in his torso or his scorecard. Remarkably, he declared himself fit to defend his title at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral just four days later, which must have been a struggle getting that one past his daughter Sam, who was apparently more than perplexed by events at PGA National, escorting her father off the 13th green.

Woods again shot the lights out of Saturday, his round of 66 described as his most complete of the year and taking him within three of the lead. The next day he was a comparative cripple again, at one hole requiring help from his playing partner's caddie to retrieve his ball from the cup. He stayed the course but tumbled down the leader board with a score of 78.

In the intervening 10 days Woods reports no improvement in the condition, which is an obvious worry with the Masters so close. Not only for him but also for the organisers and television companies who benefit so much from his presence.

It is fair to assume that Woods is in trouble. He loves this week's Orlando course, the tournament, too, hosted as it is by Arnold Palmer. And he is the defending champion. He has entered only four strokeplay events this year, completing two, having missed the Saturday cut at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines as well as the final day at Palm Beach Gardens.

But if there is one player who can summon the competitive spirit after an absence it is Woods. You might recall how between striking the fire hydrant in November 2009 and teeing off at the Masters in 2010, Woods did not complete one competitive round. In the immediate aftermath of his marital crisis Woods said he did not know when he would return to golf. His mea culpa speech at the PGA Tour headquarters in February 2010 served as a coming out party as well as public flagellation, at least raising the prospect of a dramatic return.

And so it came to pass. Woods duly announced that he would compete at Augusta. The build-up could not have been more mortifying with the great and the good taking it in turns to admonish Woods over his proclivities and deportment. Woods' pre-tournament press conference was a toe curler of shame appeasement.

How he made it to the first tee in sackcloth and ashes is anyone's guess. But make it he did. Four days later only three players had shot a better total. He has won the Green Jacket four times but arguably had never played better, given the circumstances.

This is different because, as far as we know, Woods cannot lay his hands on a club in a meaningful way, save for rudimentary chipping and putting. Woods famously won his last major title, the 2008 US Open, on one leg. As long as he can tie his shoelaces he will start. But he is unlikely to start favourite.

His best finish this season is 24th, posted last time out at Doral. He has had two decent rounds in four events. The consistency he showed last year, winning three times before Augusta, has just not been there.

He was joint leader when his ball bounced into Rae's Creek off the pin at the 15th during the second round a year ago. That 15th major might already be his had he not endured the drama of the wrong drop and the crafty shift of blame from player to organisers that kept him controversially in the contest. Right now it seems further away than ever.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn