LOS ANGELES • Tiger Woods' withdrawal from last week's Dubai Desert Classic due to back spasms has cast a lengthening shadow over his return to competition, leaving at least one expert to conclude his brilliant career is now drawing to a premature close.
While manager Mark Steinberg downplayed the withdrawal, saying Woods had a "back spasm," sports injury expert Selene Parekh says the player "should be very concerned" that he had to make an early departure from the Middle East event.
Comfortably the greatest player of his generation and arguably the best of all time, Woods was a creaking shadow of his former self in Dubai, struggling to a five-over 77 in the opening round before pulling out of the tournament the following day.
The Dubai event had been inked in as the second of four he was scheduled to play in a five-week span as part of his proposed build-up to the first Major of the year, the April 6-9 Masters, but those plans are now uncertain.
He has played just three tournaments since returning to competition in December after an absence of nearly 16 months, finishing 15th out of 18 at the Hero World Challenge, missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open and exiting Dubai after just one round.
While playing in Dubai, he looked stiff and all too often his gait and revamped swing were slow and ungainly.
THE MEDICAL VIEWPOINT
I'm very concerned hearing that so soon after returning to the course he's having issues. He's had over 500 days of rest and recovery to get back on to the course this year and already he has symptoms.
SELENE PAREKH, sports injury expert and an orthopaedic surgeon.
Golf Channel analyst and former PGA Tour player Brandel Chamblee said he looked like "the oldest 41-year-old man in the history of the game".
For a man who endured two back surgeries in late 2015 before taking an extended break from the game to recover, these most recent developments are far from promising.
"It's not the nerve pain that has kept him out for so long, it's a back spasm," Woods' manager Mark Steinberg said after the 14-time Major champion withdrew from Dubai. "The fact that he feels that it's not the nerve pain, that's very encouraging for him. He's had spasms before."
Sports injury expert Parekh, a professor of surgery in the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has a contrasting view of a player now ranked 674th in the world.
"Tiger should be very concerned," Parekh said. "I know the Woods team has said this is not related to his prior surgeries but they've said that before and it was always related to his prior back issues.
"I'm very concerned hearing that so soon after returning to the course he's having issues. He's had over 500 days of rest and recovery to get back on to the course this year and already he has symptoms.
"This is just taking it down further towards the end of his career, until he realises he has to retire."
While Woods has worked hard to revamp his swing in a bid to ease pressure on his back, Parekh believes one of two scenarios will unfold - each bringing a negative result.
"Either you resort back to your old swing, which puts pressure back on the problematic areas, or you change your swing enough that you have symptoms in other areas where you're not used to having that kind of torque built into them," he said.
Former world No. 1 David Duval, who endured his own rankings freefall as he struggled with his golf swing as well as multiple injuries, said of Woods: "Mechanically, he could be better. Physically, that's a question mark."