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Tiger Woodss withdrawal from Dubai Desert Classic puts future in doubt

Tiger Woods has pulled out the Dubai Desert Classic, the fifth time he has withdrawn in his past 19 tournaments, to leave his future schedule uncertain

This has become the Seve Ballesteros comparison nobody wants. Tiger Woods, struggling horribly for form, clearly under psychological strain and hampered by injury, bears a sad resemblance to the late Spaniard in the closing stages of his own previously glorious career.

The bulletin on Friday morning that Woods had withdrawn from the Dubai Desert Classic here before hitting a secondround ball was no great shock in the context of recent times. Still, as with everything surrounding Woods, it represented significant news.

Since 2010, he has pulled out of seven tournaments, four of them because of back issues. In his first 322 starts as a professional, Woods had four withdrawals. Over the past 19? Five. His consistent pursuit of success when speaking in public is not at all consistent with a player in such visible decline.

The explanation that the 41-year-old had suffered back spasms from Thursday evening should probably be taken at face value. Nonetheless, a glance at Woods during his first round of 77 hinted at wider troubles. He cut a forlorn, dejected figure. His movement was not smooth. Technically, the 14-times major winner was woefully inconsistent.

As has been the case throughout his career, nobody on the outside knows for certain what is going on. Part of the deep intrigue attached to one of the greatest players of all time is linked to the veil of secrecy that surrounded his every move.

Woodss manager, Mark Steinberg, said his client underwent three and a half hours of physiotherapy on Friday morning. It would seem odd for a player who sat joint 121st out of 132 to place such emphasis on trying to play the second round, especially with wild weather forecast.

He says its not the nerve pain thats kept him out for so long, Steinberg said. He says its a back spasm and he just cant get the spasm to calm down. He doesnt have the strongest back in the world so its probably easier to spasm because of the issues hes had. But he wanted to be here. He wants to be here. He just feels terrible that he cant finish it out.

Woodss own sentiment in the Middle East inadvertently provided insight. On Wednesday, he pointed towards ideal preparation work at home in Florida as proof to himself that he could hit the variety of shots required to compete. In back-to-back tournaments Woods easily missed the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open last week the buildup has not been remotely reflected by tournament statistics.

This lends itself to two explanations. Either the practice sessions have not been as successful as he has been saying or, as is far more likely, his inability to find form in competitions is caused by mental demons. Woods missed 15 months after a third surgery on his back but upon returning to the spotlight it is reasonable to expect better than has been the case. His earlier brilliance should not be understated.

Woods is scheduled to appear in the PGA Tours Genesis Open and Honda Classic before the end of February. Thereafter, he was expected to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational before teeing up at the Masters for the 21st time. As things stand, it is difficult not to draw a sad comparison with this being the 20th anniversary of Woodss historic maiden triumph at Augusta National.

The removal of Woods from the draw here meant Matthew Fitzpatrick and Danny Willett played as a second-day two-ball. I would have liked to play another round with him and talked a little bit more, watch him play, Fitzpatrick said. The same for everyone, Im sure.

I have no doubt that the large crowd that turned up on the 1st, the majority didnt know that hes withdrawn and were waiting for him to show up and were a bit puzzled when me and Danny went off as a two.

A strange day in Dubai was compounded by the arrival of high winds that caused play to be suspended for the day before 2.30pm. That decision did not sit particularly well with some of those who had completed second rounds in the morning, when it was also gusting. George Coetzee, at nine under, leads Sergio Garca by one; both players remain on the front nine of their second round.

Martin Kaymer, who made a 69 to move to four under par, said he was surprised by the suspension. The former Masters champion Trevor Immelman branded the halting of play as ridiculous.

Mike Stewart, the tournament director, offered reasoning. We had strong winds this morning and gusting up to about 27 miles an hour, he said. Those winds increased during the course of lunch time into the early afternoon to the point where we had gusts approaching 36 and beyond.

We had a lot of things going on. We had TV towers that the roofs were blown off. We had balls moving on the greens, one blew into a bunker at one stage, five trees came down. It was very unsafe and it was unplayable. So we brought the players off in the interests of play and safety to the spectators.

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