Tiger Woods withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic before Friday's second round because of a back problem, the latest blow as he struggles to regain the form and fitness that made him a golf great.
The 41-year-old American is on the comeback trail after a 16-month layoff following back surgery but suffered a back spasm overnight, forcing the 14-time major winner out of the tournament. His manager Mark Steinberg told reporters in Dubai that it was not the nerve issue that kept Woods sidelined for so long.
Former number one Woods said after labouring to a first-round five-over-par 77 on Thursday that he was pain-free. "He felt okay coming off the golf course yesterday so he wasn't in pain. I didn't see him at dinner, but he said he was okay," said Steinberg.
"He then went into a spasm in his lower back fairly late last night after dinner. "He tried to work it out last night. Didn't really get it worked out. Had treatment starting pretty early this morning, for probably the past three, three-and-a-half hours, and he can't get the spasm to settle." Steinberg added that Woods -- now languishing at 666 in the world -- "feels terrible for the tournament". "He can move around, but he can't make a full rotation on the swing," he said.
Woods was scheduled to take a week off after Dubai and then play two successive weeks on the PGA Tour, at the Genesis Open and Honda Classic. "He's had some spasms before but he's got to get the spasm to calm down, from what I gather. He has his trainer here, which is good, and that's who has been working on him for the past several hours," Steinberg said. "So he'll get it to calm down and forget about the long term. The short-term prognosis -- he hopes he'll be strong, based on the fact that it's not that nerve pain I just alluded to." Woods also saw his long-awaited PGA Tour comeback come to an abrupt end at the Farmers Insurance Open last week as he tumbled out of the tournament after missing the cut. - Play suspended -
The Dubai showpiece suffered a second setback when, hours after Woods pulled out, high winds caused play to be suspended for the day. Winds gusting over 36 miles (58km) per hour hauled down trees at Emirates Golf Club and blew large amounts of sand and moved balls on the green.
The European Tour called off play at 2:25pm (1025 GMT). When the siren sounded South Africa's George Coetzee was in the middle of an unbelievable round given the conditions -- he was three-under for the day through eight holes to top the leaderboard at nine-under par. Spain's Sergio Garcia, the overnight leader, was one-under for the day after five holes to take his total to eight-under par.
European Tour tournament director Mike Stewart said: "We've had a fairly challenging day today with the wind. "It was very unsafe and it was unplayable so we brought the players off the golf course in the interests of play and safety to the spectators as well." Coetzee agreed with the decision, saying: "Just before suspension we saw this one tree go down. You get a warning it's about to collapse and it starts squeaking. "I was walking under the trees hearing the squeaking and thinking: this could be me. It's a little bit dangerous out there."
Play will restart Saturday at 7:30am and organisers are still hopeful of completing 72 holes by Sunday evening.