(ABC Sports) – PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — And in non- Tiger Woods-related news at the Honda Classic …
Russell Henley won here Sunday in a four-man playoff, which normally would be a semi-big deal if his second career victory hadn’t happened the same day that Woods’ lower back decided to throw a hissy fit.
What is it about this place that causes an annual health crisis?
Last year it was Rory McIlroy, who departed the premises with supposed wisdom tooth issues after 27 holes, later admitting that his walk-off had more to do with not being in a happy place. And this year it was Woods calling it quits after 67 holes, citing lower back spasms. Both players were hopelessly out of contention when they left the PGA National parking lot.
Nothing against the 24-year-old Henley, who now has wins in each of the past two years, but Sunday wasn’t a great day for the tour if you believe in star power.
Henley won fair and square — well done, sir — but most of America didn’t put its head on the pillow late Saturday night dreaming of a Henley victory. More than likely the hopes were for a Woods-McIlroy playoff scenario.
It could have happened too. Woods started the day 7 shots behind McIlroy, who had led this tournament after 18, 36 and 54 holes. If Woods got off to a quick start, and the top of the leaderboard suffered a meltdown … who knows, right?
Instead, Woods said he began experiencing discomfort in his back during his pre-round warm-ups. The condition worsened as he completed the front nine, and after playing the 13th hole, Woods informed playing partner Luke Guthrie he was done. There were handshakes, followed by a van ride to the players’ parking lot, followed by the sight of caddie Joe LaCava driving Woods off the property in a black Mercedes SUV.
It was just as well. Woods shot 40 on the front nine and was 5 over par when he WD’d. There would be no gutting it out this time, as he did at Barclay’s last year, or even at the U.S. Open in 2008 — the last time he won a major.
OK, so no Woods. At least we had McIlroy, the two-time major winner and former world No. 1. And we had his small entourage, which included his parents and tennis star fiancée Caroline Wozniacki.
McIlroy had a 2-shot advantage over the field when he teed off. Then his game began leaking coolant all over the PGA National course.
He shot a 7-under-par 63 on Thursday, 66 on Friday, 69 on Saturday … and a 74 when it counted.
“Yeah, 74 today wasn’t good enough to get the job done,” McIlroy said. “You know, even if I had of won, it would have felt a little bit undeserved in a way.”
But he would have taken it. McIlroy hasn’t won a PGA Tour event since 2012, so he isn’t in a position to be picky.
And the tour would have taken it, too. Popular player. The comeback storyline. Golf pedigree.
“I mean, look, I counted myself very fortunate even to be in the playoff,” he said. “I didn’t play well enough at all down the stretch to win this tournament … It’s very disappointing. I was in [a] perfect opportunity to win.”
And then he wasn’t. The guy who had closed the deal on his three previous 54-hole leads on the PGA Tour double-bogeyed the 16th hole, bogeyed No. 17 and birdied the par-5 18th to squeeze into the playoff. He could have won it outright had he sunk the makeable eagle putt. Sigh.
McIlroy offered all sorts of swing-related reasons for his struggles: His body was stopping, so the club was getting past his body … his favorite cut shot bailed on him … he couldn’t get any spin on a greenside bunker shot on the first playoff hole. Fascinating stuff for golf instructors Butch Harmon and David Leadbetter, but Portuguese to the rest of us.
The bottom line is that McIlroy could have won and didn’t. He knows it. Henley knows it. Woods, who was likely at home by the time the playoff began, knows it.
“I had my chances,” said McIlroy. “Even had my chance at the last and [it] just wasn’t to be. Tough to take at the minute, but I’ll sleep it off tonight and get back at it.”
He’ll get back at it this week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. As for Woods, we’re on medical alert.
Woods was scheduled to play at Doral and then Bay Hill two weeks after that. Then he’d taper down for the Masters.
But the back spasms create the usual Woods drama. Will he be OK for Doral, where he is the defending champion? Will he be OK for Arnold Palmer’s tournament, where he is also the defending champion? Is his Masters prep work in trouble? Will the back issue force him to miss Augusta?
It would have been fun had he played better and not gotten into a fistfight with his back. A 67 would have put him into the playoff.
It would have been fun had McIlroy not lost the lug nuts on his final-round wheels. Or if he had taken advantage of the longest drive on the first and only playoff hole.
None of it happened. Woods limped off the course. McIlroy limped out of the playoff.
Henley and his immediate family loved how everything turned out. Good for them. Bad for drama.