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Fears for Woods future after latest injury setback

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Iain Carter | 20:09 UK time, Thursday, 12 May 2011

Tiger Woods's withdrawal from the Players' Championship through injury for the second year running is a huge blow for the former world number one.

Last year it was a neck problem that was soon cured, but this time it is more worrying for Woods's future. He suffered a recurrence of problems in his left knee and Achilles and clearly has no idea when and if they will be ever fully cured.

The 35-year-old has already undergone four operations on the knee and it is not as though his fitness problems are being caused in an overly freakish way. The injuries are being sustained by what he does to make a living - namely hitting golf shots.

Woods suffered his latest injuries taking an awkward swing playing from pine straw during his third round at the Masters in April. He suffered a minor sprain of medial collateral ligaments in his left knee and a minor sprain of his left Achilles.

These problems prompted him to withdraw from last week's tournament at Quail Hollow and now it has become clear that the difficulties in his left leg are more than "minor".

The 14-time major champion came into the Players' Championship with just nine holes of practice under his belt, and felt the problems return from the moment he struck his first tee shot here at Sawgrass.

It was painful to watch as he compiled a miserable six-over-par 42 for the nine holes he completed, walking slowly and well behind his playing partners between shots.

Ordinarily, he would be looking to play the Memorial tournament at the beginning of June before practising hard for the US Open later next month. His participation in both events now must be in severe jeopardy.

tigerwoods595.jpgWoods was clearly in some discomfort as he struggled at Sawgrass. Photo: Getty

"I'm having a hard time walking," Woods admitted after hobbling off the course. Is he back to square one with the injury? "I don't know. Give me a few days to see what the docs say."

Golfers routinely pick up niggles - it goes with the territory when you are repeatedly winding up your body with enough torque to propel a ball 300 yards - but Woods is proving more injury prone than most.

His early Sawgrass departure was far from a shock. In the build-up to the tournament, Golf Channel pundit Brandel Chamblee proved prescient with his remarks. "It's very likely he is going to re-injure himself playing this course," said the former PGA Tour player.

"It's kind of sad. We watched Tiger age so rapidly right before our eyes and maybe we'll watch Tiger Woods play where he's literally shuffling off the course. He's now kind of an old man out there and trying to rehearse moves that don't come naturally to him."

That final observation from Chamblee alludes to the re-modelled Woods swing which has not so much been developed to make him a better player (as he claims) but to give him a chance of playing shots that accommodate the weaknesses in his left leg.

The question now is whether Woods will be fit enough to return in time for the US Open at Congressional or if he has to take yet another prolonged absence from the game.

Even if he does, how certain can he be that his left leg will hold up when he does come back?

Former coach Butch Harmon has already said that he doesn't think Woods will appear at the year's second major near Washington next month.

It could be that he simply returned too soon to play here in Florida and that he has merely aggravated a perfectly curable problem.

Equally, he could be facing the biggest crisis of his career - one that has the potential to end his quest to overhaul Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors.

It could also be that the famed appetite to grind out a score when out of form or in discomfort is no longer there. I suspect that is not the case, but there is no doubting that he faces serious problems - physical or mental.

The impact of such uncertainty spreads further than the player himself. Even though he has now tumbled to number eight in the world rankings and is set to fall further, he remains the biggest calling card in the game.

Woods - even the post scandal-tainted version - is central to the mass appeal of golf and uncertainty over his future does not help the PGA Tour in the forthcoming process of negotiating television rights in the US.

Not that this will be uppermost in the mind of a player who utterly dominated the game for more than a decade. Right now, he must be wondering what more can go wrong in his life.

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