ORLANDO — Tiger Woods has decided not to play the Players Championship next week due to ongoing back issues, which means the chances of him playing the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook the following week just grew substantially.
Woods will miss the Players for the first time when not recovering from any of his nine surgeries. His agent, Mark Steinberg at Excel Sports Management, said in a text on Friday, “Back just not ready. Not long term concern.”
That limits the amount of golf Woods will play leading into his title defense at the Masters, one of the biggest moments in sports a year ago when he rallied to win a fifth green jacket and his first major in 11 years.
The Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor is March 19, the week after the Players in Ponte Vedra Beach. Skipping the Players will make it four consecutive tournaments that Woods has missed due to back issues. That means, if his back improves, that the 15-time major winner will need to get in as many live tournament rounds as possible before the Masters on April 9.
Woods played Valspar in 2018, drawing record crowds at the Copperhead Course. He often cited his play in the tournament as the jump-start in his comeback from four back surgeries, en route to winning the Tour Championship in September of that year and the Masters in 2019.
“It was not an easy decision, but I will not be attending @THEPLAYERSChamp,” Woods tweeted. “I have to listen to my body and properly rest when needed. My back is simply just not ready for play next week. I’m sad to miss one of the best events of the season, OUR Championship.”
Woods has played only two times this year, a tie for ninth at Torrey Pines in San Diego and last place at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera in Pacific Palisades, Calif., where he serves as tournament host. Woods shot 76-77 on the weekend at Riviera in the Pacific chill and said his back was a little stiff.
He decided at the last minute not to play the World Golf Championships event in Mexico after Riviera. The next week Woods didn’t play the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens for a second straight year, then he chose not play this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, where he has won a record eight times.
The Players was seen as a likely return, except that Woods isn’t ready.
He has been saying all year that he plans to play fewer events, mainly so the 44-year-old with five knee surgeries and four back surgeries can stay in golf longer.
He is a two-time winner of the Players on the TPC Sawgrass course, most recently in 2013. Woods had the first of four back operations the following year and was at the Players only once over the next four years, a tie for 69th in 2015. He ended that season with two more back surgeries.
Before that, Woods missed the Players in 2008, when it was held in May. He had arthroscopic knee surgery after the Masters that year and didn’t play again until the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, which he won despite shredded ligaments in his left knee and a double stress fracture in his leg.
Times staff writer Anthony Perez and the Associated Press contributed to this report.