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After an opening-round 75, Tiger Woods withdrew from the Northern Trust due to a mild oblique strain. 

By Daniel Rapaport
August 09, 2019

JERSEY CITY, N.J.—Tiger Woods has withdrawn from the Northern Trust Open due to an injury. For better or for worse, the culprit is not his four-time surgically repaired back—Woods said in a statement that a mild oblique strain will keep him from finishing the first of three FedEx Cup playoff events.

"Due to a mild oblique strain that led to pain and stiffness, I have to withdraw from the Northern Trust," the statement reads. "I went for treatment early Friday morning, but unfortunately I'm still unable to compete.

"I'd like to thank the New Jersey and New York fans for their support and remain hopeful that I can compete next week at the BMW Championship.

As always, we need to read between the lines here to fully understand this decision.

Woods looked fine physically on Thursday but his four-over 75 put him T116 out of 120 players in the field, meaning he’d have to shoot something in the mid 60s just to make the cut here at Liberty National. He was scheduled to play, ideally, three weeks in a row—this week, then the BMW Championship, then the Tour Championship should he qualify by being in the top 30 of the FedEx Cup standings after the BMW. He will now need a solid week to get a spot at East Lake, where he would be the defending champion. But because he entered this week 28th in the standings, he’s guaranteed to play next week at TPC Boston, where only the top 70 get to tee it up.

What, then, would the upside be of playing today? His odds of making the weekend are well below 50%, and he already expressed concern about playing back-to-back-to-back weeks for the first time all season. Today’s round of golf would have likely been, at best, little more than an opportunity to iron out some kinks, post a respectable score and build some momentum for next week. At worst, he might worsen the oblique injury, provided that’s actually what’s bothering him.

It would be poor form to cite rest as the reason for the withdraw—this isn’t the NBA, where load management is an accepted reality—so Woods has to cite something as the problem. Perhaps the oblique is indeed an issue, or perhaps it’s his back but he doesn’t want to alarm people, or perhaps it’s none of the above.

Bigger picture, this is another reminder of the frailty of Woods’s physical condition. Even if he is healthy enough to play today, he’s being ultra-cautious with his body because he has to. This is the new normal. On Wednesday, he cut his pro-am round short to be careful with a stiff back. He withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational, one of his favorite tournaments on Tour, for a mild neck strain back in March. He knows that he simply can’t afford to push it anymore. The risks greatly outweigh the rewards.

So this will be the third time in his last five starts that Woods doesn’t play the weekend, dating back to the PGA Championship in May. He once seemed a shoe-in to be a playing captain at December’s Presidents Cup, but that is now anything but a certainty. He will now almost definitely not qualify for the team on points, which lock after the BMW, and would thus have to select himself as a captain’s pick.

His recent play is not worthy of said pick, particularly when guys like Gary Woodland and Tony Finau and Rickie Fowler and Chez Reavie and Patrick Reed and Kevin Kisner are on the outside looking in. Because he is unlikely to play more than once in the fall—he’s already committed to the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan—Woods now has a maximum of three more (BMW, possibly Tour Championship, the Zozo) starts before he'll make his picks in November to prove to himself and everyone else that he's worth a spot. 

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