Golf pundits in the US are speculating that Tiger Woods may need to take another long break from the game, after a knee injury forced him to limp out of the Players Championship at Sawgrass after nine holes.
Tiger Woods’s former coach Butch Harmon believes the 14-time major winner’s career now has a huge question mark over it.
“I think his whole future is up in the air,” Harmon said.
Following four knee operations already, the 35-year-old was in joint last place on six over par at golf's richest event when he withdrew from his first tournament since injuring himself at The Masters more than a month ago.
“Does it mean he needs more surgery?” Harmon added. “If he does who knows what is going to happen.”
Woods knew he was in trouble from the very first of his 42 shots – just one better than the worst nine holes of his career on the PGA Tour.
He had begun practising again only on Monday after four weeks of rest, but his warm-up did not prepare him for what followed.
“It felt fine, but at the first the knee acted up and then the Achilles followed after that and then the calf started cramping up,” Woods said.
“Everything started getting tight, so it’s just a whole chain reaction. It’s hard to put muscle pressure on it right now, so it’s a bit of a struggle. I’m having a hard time walking.”
Woods bogeyed the first, triple-bogeyed the 384-yard fourth after pitching and then chipping into the water, then dropped more shots on the fifth and long ninth.
Asked if he feared he was back to square one in his recovery, Woods – without a victory for 18 months and a major for nearly three years – replied: “I don’t know. Give me a few days to see what the docs say. I’m surprised. The treatment’s been good and it’s been getting better. It just wasn’t enough.”
He has just over a month to try to get fit for the US Open and in normal circumstances would use the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village on June 2-5 as his one event between now and then.
But this was only his seventh start of the season and he has so far managed only two top-10 finishes, the consequence of which sees him down to eighth in the world already and likely to fall further this weekend.
There could be changes at the top of the rankings too.
German Martin Kaymer, who will go ahead of the absent Lee Westwood again with a top-two finish on Sunday, opened with a five-under-par 67.
But that was good enough only for a share of fifth spot behind four Americans - Nick Watney shot 64, last week’s winner Lucas Glover 65 and both David Toms and 54-year-old Mark O’Meara had 66s.
Also round in 67 was Northern Ireland’s US Open champion Graeme McDowell, who in a return to form eagled the 16th and sank a bunker shot on the sixth.
McDowell said: “I had a great weekend on the range with Pete Cowen and felt the light switch go on.
“This is the start of a really good summer hopefully, I am hoping I can get the game primed and ready.”
Kaymer was paired with Woods and said: “Nobody really knows how much pain he was in. We can just hope he gets well soon.”