NEW YORK • Tiger Woods has played down the neck strain that caused him to withdraw from tomorrow's Arnold Palmer Invitational, an event he has won eight times.
Any fresh health setback to golf's most popular player has often elicited alarm and, recognising that concern, Woods, whose multiple back surgeries almost ended his career, tried to mitigate the expected reaction to his pullout.
He tweeted on Monday: "My lower back is fine, and I have no long-term concerns."
Indicating he has been bothered by the ailment for "a few weeks", he added: "I've been receiving treatment, but it hasn't improved enough to play.
"I'd like to send my regrets to the Palmer family and the Orlando fans. Its connection to Arnold makes it one of my favourite tournaments."
Woods' neck issue may indeed be minor but, for many years, when he struggled to play through myriad infirmities, the 43-year-old often withdrew from a tournament with a similarly short statement about a seemingly insignificant injury.
In the end, he missed dozens of events, and his absences from competition lasted months because of multiple, serious knee operations and four back surgeries.
However, Woods did offer one encouraging sentence: "I hope to be ready for The Players."
The Players Championship, which is the PGA Tour's flagship event and is often called the fifth Major, runs from March 14-17.
His optimism about playing in the tournament will help calm worries about his fitness for now.
But, should he miss that event, there will be speculation about his ability to continue a startling comeback that was one of the most uplifting sports stories last year.
Six months ago, Woods completed an unforeseen return to golf and ended a five-year winless drought, with a victory at the season-ending Tour Championship.
It was the 18th tournament that Woods played last year - his first full schedule of events since 2015.
He did not miss a tournament he was scheduled to appear at last year. This year, the 14-time Major winner has already played three times. He finished tied for 10th at last month's WGC-Mexico Championship and did not mention any neck discomfort at that event.
Meanwhile, the Tour's Rookie of the Year honour has been renamed The Arnold Palmer Award.
"Arnold Palmer was golf's greatest ambassador with his go-for-broke style of play, his charitable endeavours and his true passion and respect for the game and its fans," PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement.
"The Arnold Palmer Award will now reflect those contributions in honouring the Tour's most outstanding rookie."
NY TIMES, REUTERS