Injuries Could Keep Tiger Woods from PGA Milestones

Journal Sentinel—April 22, 2014

No one doubts Tiger Woods' desire to break the two most important records in golf. He is tantalizingly close to Sam Snead's record of 82 PGA Tour victories, and Jack Nicklaus' total of 18 major championship titles is still within reach.

Woods has 79 victories and 14 majors and is just 38 years old.

But could it be possible that he's running out of time?

Woods missed the Masters for the first time in 20 years after undergoing back surgery March 31. He's still recovering from the microdiscectomy to relieve pressure on a nerve and could miss the U.S. Open in June and perhaps even the British Open in July.

His back injury was the latest and most serious in a long list of ailments — knee, Achilles' tendon, neck, elbow — the cumulative effect of which, it can be argued, has diminished Woods' physical superiority. He's been forced to alter his swing because of those injuries.

Plenty of golfers routinely outdrive him now and dozens hit it straighter. As ESPN analyst Curtis Strange said a few weeks ago, "He hasn't hit it well in years."

Woods still knows how to win and has unparalleled experience and unmatched determination. Unfortunately, his body is letting him down.

"Tiger has a voracious tenacity," said Selene Parekh, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Duke University. "He has a hunger to eclipse (records). I think that will drive him but at some point the body catches up.

"You saw it with Kobe (Bryant). No matter how strong you are mentally, it catches up to you. You can fight it, but you can't reverse it."

Like all elite golfers, Woods generates tremendous rotational force when he swings a club and likely has a degenerative condition in the small joints called facets that provide stability in the neck and lower back.

"Honestly, everybody gets some degeneration as time goes on," said Frank P. Cammisa Jr., MD, chief of the spine service at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. "It's anybody's guess how much degeneration Tiger has."

Cammisa, who has operated on football players, hockey players and golfers, said the normal recovery time after a discectomy was 10-12 weeks before an athlete could return to the playing field.

"(Woods) will be prudent," Cammisa said. "He's been prudent his whole career. I don't think he'd be ready to compete in the British Open (July 17-20) but he'll probably be playing and practicing by then."

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