Any hope that Tiger Woods might have held of playing tournament golf in 2017 likely is finished.
Woods announced Thursday on his website that he underwent a fourth back surgery to alleviate pain. The operation, described as a minimally invasive anterior lumbar interbody fusion, was done in Plano, Texas.
"The surgery went well, and I'm optimistic this will relieve my back spasms and pain," Woods said in a statement on Tigerwoods.com. "When healed, I look forward to getting back to a normal life, playing with my kids, competing in professional golf and living without the pain I have been battling so long."
Just two days earlier, Woods appeared at Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Mo., site of this week’s Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf, to announce plans to build a public course (“Bass Pro Shops founder hooks another big one: Tiger Woods,” April 19, bit.ly/2orUBTy). He even hit two short-iron shots during the ceremony, saying later that “the back is progressing.”
From April 2014 to October 2015, Woods underwent three back surgeries. According to his website, the latest procedure entailed removing the damaged disc in his lower back at the L-5 and S-1 of his spine and re-elevating the collapsed disc space to normal levels. The expectation is that one vertebrae will heal to the other.
Dr. Richard Guyer of the Center for Disc Replacement at the Texas Back Institute in Plano performed the surgery.
"After he recovers from surgery, he will gradually begin his rehabilitation until he is completely healed," Guyer said in a statement. "Once that's accomplished, his workouts will be geared to allowing him to return to competitive golf.
"If you are going to have single-level fusion, the bottom level is the best place for it to occur. Some individuals are born with one less vertebrae, which would be similar to someone who had a single-level fusion.”
Woods expects to rest for several weeks and then begin therapy and treatment. Patients in similar procedures typically return to full activity in about six months, which means the 2017 golf season will be another lost year. It would be his second consecutive season without having made a start in a major championship.
Woods underwent his first microdiscectomy in April 2014. He returned to competition in three months, then sat out three months late in the year. In 2015, after missing cuts in three major championships, he underwent back surgeries in September and October. He was out of competition for 15 months before returning in December to play in the Hero World Challenge, which benefits his foundation.
This season, he missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in January at Torrey Pines, where his eight victories include the 2008 U.S. Open, his 14th and perhaps final major championship. One week later, he shot a first-round 77 in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and then withdrew, citing back spasms.
Woods, 41, a 79-time winner on the PGA Tour, hasn’t played a full season since 2013, when he won five times and was the Tour’s player of the year. He since has plummeted to No. 788 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
He still could play in future major championships, though. As a past champion, he holds lifetime exemptions into the Masters and PGA Championship, and he can play in the British Open until age 60. However, his 10-year exemption for having won the 2008 U.S. Open will expire.
For now, thoughts of a 15th major title likely are the furthest thing from his mind.
"I would like to thank all the fans for staying in touch and their kind wishes," Woods said. "The support I have received has never waned, and it really helps."