By Doug Ferguson
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Standing on the third green on the North Course at Torrey Pines _ his 12th hole of the opening round in the Farmers Insurance Open _ he motioned to caddie Joe LaCava to retrieve his ball marker some 35 feet from the cup.
Moments later, he shook hands with Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel, got into a golf cart and headed for the parking lot.
The scene has become far more familiar than Woods posing with a trophy, especially over the last 18 months.
Woods left the Honda Classic in the final round after 13 holes with what he called back spasms. He was driven to the parking lot at Firestone after eight holes when he said spasms returned from a jarring leap into a deep bunker. And on Thursday, the reason for withdrawing was the weather.
It’s a little more complicated than that.
Woods said he warmed up nicely at Torrey Pines in the morning as fog finally lifted along the Pacific bluffs. Waiting for his tee time, play was suspended for 90 minutes when the fog returned, and Woods didn’t quite feel the same.
“It’s just my glutes are shutting off,” he said. “Then they don’t activate and then, hence, it goes into my lower back. So I tried to activate my glutes as best I could in between, but they never stayed activated.”
Medical lingo aside, he never looked comfortable. Horschel noticed it early after they started _ finally _ on the 10th hole.
“If I didn’t see it on 10, I saw it on 11,” Horschel said. “Then I asked him when I walked off 12 tee, ‘Back hurting you again?’ He said, ‘Spasms.’ And it was unfortunate.”
Woods now has gone 12 straight PGA Tour events without a top 10, dating to his runner-up finish in The Barclays in 2013 when back pain dropped him to his knees. This was his first round since a career-high 82 last week in the Phoenix Open to tie for last with a club pro and miss the cut by 12 shots.
“It’s tough to see a guy I look up to, a guy I consider a friend, to have issues with spasms,” Horschel said. “It’s tough to see him go, but he was in quite a bit of pain.”
Nicholas Thompson had an 8-under 64 on the North Course and had a one-shot lead over Michael Thompson when play was suspended by darkness. Brooks Koepka, coming off his victory in the Phoenix Open, had a 66 on the North. The best score on the tougher South Course belonged to Jhonnatan Vegas, who shot 67.
Dustin Johnson, playing for the first time since his six-month leave for “personal challenges,” holed out for eagle on No. 4 on the South Course as his lone highlight. He had five bogeys and was 2 over with one hole remaining.
But this day was all about Woods, which used to be typical at Torrey Pines because he has won the tournament seven times. Thursday was different. Several players came out of the scoring area and said, “What happened to Tiger?”
It has become a troubling trend for Woods. In his last six tournaments since back surgery last March, he has missed the cut three times, withdrawn twice and finished 69th in the British Open, his lowest 72-hole finish in a major.
“It’s just tough not seeing him have his best, whether it’s with his game or with his health,” Fowler said.
Woods was 2-over par through 11 holes and in a tie for 130th when he withdrew.
He will fall to his worst world ranking since before he won his first PGA Tour event as a 20-year-old in 1996, and he most likely will not qualify for a World Golf Championship for only the second time in his career. Woods is not expected to play again until the Honda Classic in three weeks. Doral is the following week. He did not indicate earlier in the week that he would add tournaments to his schedule ahead of the Masters, which is April 9-12.
His opening nine holes were more of the same kind of golf he showed in the Phoenix Open last week with a short game that was shocking. On his first hole, the par-4 10th, Woods short-sided himself right of the green and he bladed his chip some 35 feet beyond the hole for a bogey.
He was in trouble again on the next hole, facing the same chip, and this time struck it perfectly. He chipped in to save par.
From there, it was a mixed bag of poor tee shots (he hit only one fairway) and poor iron shots. His tee shot on the par-3 12th wound up on a front tee box at the 13th hole. On his final hole, the short par-4 second, he sent a sand wedge from the rough well over the gallery and nearly onto a tee box at the next hole. He flubbed a flop shot and wound up making double bogey.
Woods won five times in 2013 and was PGA Tour player of the year. His future looked foggy leaving San Diego.