Fellow members of the PGA Tour learned the level Tiger Woods' toughness can reach when they saw him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg.
So playing partner Bubba Watson wasn't surprised Woods didn't let on for six holes Sunday that he'd re-injured his back in the final round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
Woods withdrew after teeing off on the ninth hole at Firestone Country Club, telling a PGA Tour representative he'd been suffering back spasms since falling into a bunker on No. 2. Woods underwent back surgery on March 31 and was competing in just his third tournament since.
At No. 2, the eight-time champion at Firestone found his ball on the lip of the bunker, leaving him an awkward stance. After hitting off the grass, Woods fell back into the sand and ran to the bottom.
"I just jarred it and it's been spasming ever since," Woods said. "It's just the whole lower back. I don't know what happened."
Woods said the pain got progressively worse as he continued. On No. 9, he hit his drive down the right side of the fairway and grimaced as he bent down to pick up his tee. He walked up the fairway and almost got to his ball when he stopped, shook hands with Watson and his caddie and was driven to the parking lot in a golf cart.
Woods was in visible pain as he removed his golf shoes, bracing himself against the open hatch of his tournament SUV, unable to tie the shoes he put on.
Next week is the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. The last time the PGA was held at Valhalla in 2000, Woods won in a three-hole playoff with Bob May.
Asked what his back injury might mean for next week, Woods said: "I don't know. Just trying to get out of here."
Watson didn't see the shot Woods injured himself on, only its result, but said Woods never let on how badly he was hurting.
"He showed us at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, when he had the hurt leg, what a great champion he is," Watson said of Woods' 14th and most recent major victory in 2008. He needed surgery eight days later to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. "He's going to try to tough it out. Obviously it got too tough for him.
"The man won a tournament with a hurt leg. I get a paper cut and I'm going to withdraw. He's a lot tougher than me, so, no, he would never show it. He was brought up a military man just like myself and you try not to show it."
When they shook hands, Watson said he told Woods, "I'm praying for you. Hope to see you next week."
Phil Mickelson played three groups ahead of Woods and saw him walking down No. 9 when he was on No. 11.
"It didn't look good," Mickelson said. "It looked like he was really in pain. I hope he's OK. I hope he's able to play next week. I hope it's a muscle and it's nothing serious because I'm really looking forward to playing with him. We rarely get paired together."
Mickelson, Woods and Padraig Harrington are paired for the first two rounds of the PGA. Mickelson and Woods have played together 33 times on tour, 10 in majors. The last time came at the 2012 U.S. Open.
Watson said he wasn't ruling Woods out of the PGA field.
"Obviously he can muster up some courage and play some golf," Watson said. "What I'm guessing is he's like, 'Do I want to go nine more holes or get ready for next week?' Try to get some more rest, therapy, whatever it takes to get him ready for next week. He's got four days until Thursday."
Woods was a minute from teeing off at 10:45 a.m. when play was halted for an hour and 15 minutes due to water on the course. Watson said they retreated to the clubhouse for about 40 minutes, some of it spent discussing Valhalla.
"As much as I love playing with him, playing against him, trying to beat him, we all want him in the field," Mickelson said of the PGA. "We all want him back. I just hope he's OK."
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