Only another dramatic twist in the Tiger Woods saga could overshadow Justin Rose winning the biggest title of his career here last night. Woods is a huge doubt for the Masters after withdrawing from the WGC Cadillac Championship on the 12th hole.
But the fact it was Wood's left leg which forced his premature exit means the fears in golf are much more long-term than merely next month's major. Despite first describing it as a "leg injury", Woods later released a statement explaining the problem was with his Achilles. "I felt tightness in my left Achilles when I was warming up this morning and it got progressively worse," he said. "In the past I may have tried to play on, but this time I decided to do what I thought was necessary. I will get my Achilles evaluated early this week."
The wait to see what the scans show will be nervous for obvious reasons. The former world No 1 has undergone repeated surgery on his left knee. Last May, he spent three months on the sidelines after withdrawing from The Players with "knee and achilles injuries", while after an ACL replacement in 2008, Woods was out for eight months. A year ago, Woods declared he was determined he didn't return until he was certain there would be no more issues with his leg. Since then, he has been able to practice more and adjust to swing changes, and from tee-to-green his golf has begun to look far more solid.
The circumstances which led to Woods's WD were typically clouded in mystery. He changed his shoes on the ninth – presumably to a pair with more support – and then on the 10th winced as he hit his ball into the water. He was clearly limping and the distress he showed on the 11th, when backing off a shot he hit into a bunker reminded of the grimaces he displayed on his way to winning the 2008 US Open.
Woods told his playing partner Webb Simpson that he was withdrawing before being driven directly to his car in the parking lot. It was here that he told a PGA Tour media official: "Leg. Left leg injury." Confusion was inevitably to reign as the story was updated. Intriguingly, it was Woods who drove away his black Sedan, with his caddie, Joe LaCava in the passenger seat. Just to add to the drama, a MetLife blimp trailed the car, filming his progress on the freeway back to his home in nearby Jupiter.
Woods is due to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill next week. He was then due to take a week off before playing in the Masters. That gives him three weeks to recover in time to play in the only major he has never missed in his 16 years as a professional. The irony is Woods has looked fitter than for a long time in this run of tournaments. He finished second last week with a final-round 62 at the Honda Classic and was being widely tipped to win his first major in four years. Now the doubts will intensify over the likelihood of him winning the five majors he requires to overhaul Jack Nicklaus's record major count of 18. A fit Tiger might even have struggled.
Already the critics wonder how wise it was, with his medical history, to have played three weeks in a row. Woods has rarely appeared at so many consecutive tournaments. He has not won an official event in more than two years and last night nobody was daring to forecast his next win. The clock ticks ever faster for the 36-year-old. Golf had been on a high with Woods returning to form and Rory McIlroy's accession to world No 1. Last night, that optimism has taken a blow.
Not that Rose will care. Last night he was celebrating becoming the first Englishman to win a WGC strokeplay title. The £900,000 winner's cheque was an incidental to the 31-year-old who has won more than £25m in his career. This was the big-stage win for which that skinny teenaged amateur who finished fourth in the 1998 Open was always destined.
Rose supremely held his nerve to hold off the incredible charge of McIlroy, the Ulsterman who, in his 67, provided emphatic proof why he is world No 1, making up an eight-shot deficit to close within two. A bogey at the last eventually saw McIlroy finishing third, but he continued his remarkable run. This was his 12th top-five placing in his last 13 events dating back to the USPGA last August and, with the Woods predicament, he will head to the Masters as a strong favourite. "I hope it's just precautionary because I really want Tiger to be healthy at the Masters," said McIlroy.
Rose will also be much-fancied in Augusta. Trailing Bubba Watson by three shots at the beginning of the final round, Rose took advantage of the leader's erratic play to secure his fourth PGA Tour title in the last 21 months. With only one bogey on his card, Rose was control personified in a 70. When Watson missed a nine-footer for a birdie on the last, after a tremendous approach shot bent around a tree, his glory was all but ensured
"There's been a lot of hard work going on in my game," said Rose, who moved up to world No 8. "These moments are incredibly sweet."
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