• The Star Staff

Tiger Woods announces he had fifth back operation

By Brett Cyrgalis

Tiger Woods, whose transcendent golf career nearly ended prematurely because of multiple back operations, has undergone another procedure on his spine.

Woods, a 15-time major champion, announced Tuesday on social media that he recently had his fifth back operation in the past seven years and indicated that he did not expect to return to the PGA Tour before March.

The operation was his fourth microdiscectomy and his first back surgery since a spinal fusion in April 2017 that allowed him to make a triumphant comeback to the game he had long dominated.

Woods, 45, said he would miss two events near his childhood home in Southern California: the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in the final week of January and the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club starting Feb. 18. He is the honorary host of the Genesis Invitational.

Woods said he started feeling discomfort after the PNC Championship in December, when he laughed his way around the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Orlando, Florida, as he played alongside his 11-year-old son, Charlie.

According to the social media post, his recent procedure removed a pressurized disc fragment that was pinching a nerve. The doctors deemed the surgery a success, according to the post, which also said Woods was expected to make a full recovery.

“I look forward to begin training and am focused on getting back out on Tour,” Woods said in the statement.

According to Kevin McGuire, section chief for the Center for Pain and Spine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, Woods probably had what is called “adjacent segment disease,” which occurs when nearby discs deteriorate as they compensate for limitations at the fusion site.

“Professional athletes are different human beings, in my opinion, than the rest of us mortals,” said McGuire, who was not involved in Woods’ treatment. “If the rest of us swung the golf club as many times as Tiger Woods did, most of us would get hurt, get injured or have back problems. So professional athletes tend to come back fast — or, do come back faster.”

Woods has contended with unpredictable back pain over the years, and his 2020 starts yielded just one top-10 finish: a tie for ninth in January at the Farmers Insurance Open. In mid-February, he became stiff and repeatedly grimaced throughout the final two rounds of the Genesis Invitational, where he shot an 11 over par and finished last among the golfers who made the cut.

In the six majors he has played since his 2019 Masters victory, he has missed the cut three times: tied for 21st, tied for 37th and tied for 38th.

In August 2019 Woods had a fifth arthroscopic procedure done on his left knee. Woods returned three months later in Japan and claimed his 82nd career victory, tying him atop the career PGA Tour wins list with Sam Snead.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Woods had to wait until November to try to defend his Masters title. But he struggled trudging up and down the wet Georgia hills, the physical toll exacerbated by rain and limited autumn sunlight, which meant compressed tee times and little time for rest and recuperation. Woods finished tied for 38th, 19 shots behind the winner, Dustin Johnson.

“No matter how much I push and ask of this body, it just doesn’t work at times,” Woods told reporters then.

But Woods has become accustomed to making comebacks.

“The classic line I give a lot of my patients is: ‘If you really enjoy something, go for quality rather than quantity,’” McGuire said.

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