May 8, 2014 4:51 pm

Tiger Woods’ absence felt at Players Championship

Woods says his recovery from back surgery is going slowly and he's not sure when he'll be able to return to golf.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem recognizes that, for the past 17 years, as goes Tiger Woods, so does professional golf.

That’s why he’s downplaying the fact Woods isn’t in the field this week to defend at the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, FLA.

“Well, you know, it’s not the first time we haven’t had Tiger, with injuries and whatever,” Finchem explains. “We’re kind of used to it.”

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He’s right. Since 2008, when Woods had knee surgery and then reinjured his leg, and again later that year when personal issues kept him away from the game, the golfer has battled through a series of injuries. A problem with his Achilles limited his play in 2011 and 2012, and most recently Woods shut down his season following back surgery. There’s no projected time for his return.

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“It’s Monday of The Players and I’d rather be driving north on I-95 to Ponte Vedra, but unfortunately, I won’t be playing this week,” Woods wrote on his website. “It’s tough to miss any tournament, but especially one that’s so important to the players and where I’m defending.”

As for comments on the state of his recovery, Woods had this to say: “My recovery from microdiscectomy surgery for a pinched nerve in my back is coming along, but it’s a very slow process. I’m still sore. Not from the procedure itself but the incision. I just need to get back to my day-to-day activities, and that’s it.”

He gave no indication whether he’d be back playing in weeks or months, though his agent has suggested Woods could be back for the British Open at Royal Liverpool in July, the same course where he won in 2006.

Finchem suggested that pundits are taking a glass half empty approach when it comes to golf without Woods.

“There was all this publicity about Masters ratings were off,” Finchem says. “They had a great rating. It’s just that when Tiger plays, it’s higher.”

Canadian Graham DeLaet knows a great deal about Tiger’s situation. DeLaet, from Weyburn, Sask., and the top-ranked Canadian in golf, had the same surgery after his rookie season in 2010. DeLaet tried to come back to the sport six months after the surgery, but shut it down when mobility issues began bothering him. Since then reporters have asked DeLaet regularly about his experience recovering from disc surgery.

“It is the first time I’ve been compared to Tiger Woods so I’ll take it,” DeLaet says, laughing. “But I’m not a doctor and I can’t compare with what he’s going through. I know it took me a long time to get back, but he’s got great people around him. Two weeks before he had the surgery he was playing golf, for a month before mine I couldn’t sit down.”

READ MORE: DeLaet poised to challenge at the Players Championship

The recovery was slower than DeLaet expected.

“From a day-to-day health perspective it felt fine,” he says of the months following the surgery. “But three days out of the week I didn’t feel like I was moving well enough. If I was hitting it at 75 per cent I couldn’t compete on the PGA Tour. I wanted those days to be few and far between. Tiger might be able to compete and win at 75 per cent. He’s a lot better than anyone else.”

In the meantime, Finchem says the PGA Tour is strong without Woods, though he admits it gains more attention with the world’s most famous athlete in the field.

“I do think what we’ve found over the years … is the strength of interest that we get from focus on the young players,” he says. “And when Tiger is in a tournament, I don’t care what tournament it is, he dominates the media focus, and that’s fine.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

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