ORLANDO, Fla. — Tiger Woods has won the Bay Hill Invitational/Arnold Palmer Invitational eight times. He’ll have to wait until next year to try to reach victory No. 9 after withdrawing Tuesday from the event he has dominated since his first win at Bay Hill in 2000.
Woods, the No. 1 rated player in the Official World Golf Rankings, said he couldn’t play because of persistent back pain.
“I personally called Arnold today to tell him that, sadly, I won’t be able to play in his tournament this year,” Woods wrote on his website. “I would like to express my regrets to the Orlando fans, the volunteers, the tournament staff and the sponsors for having to miss the event. Unfortunately, my back spasms and the pain haven’t subsided.
“It’s too early to know about the Masters, and I will continue to be evaluated and work closely with my doctors. I feel badly that I won’t be able to play in this great tournament this week.”
Palmer also lost another top player when Phil Mickelson decided earlier not to commit, electing to spend time with his children during spring break.
Jason Day, battling a thumb injury, also withdrew from the tournament on Tuesday.
Losing Woods’ star power is a blow for Palmer’s tournament as well as its national television ratings. He is still the game’s top attraction.
“I am certainly sorry that Tiger is not able to play,” Palmer said in a statement. “Quite obviously, we will miss having him here this week. He called me to tell me that his back was still giving him a lot of trouble and he didn’t feel he should play. I told him I understood and wished him well.”
The loss of Woods and Mickelson leaves the API with four top-10 players, including Adam Scott (No. 2) and Henrik Stenson (No. 3). The field also features Patrick Reed, who won the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral; 2012 Masters champ Bubba Watson; and seven former API winners, including Vijay Singh.
The news on Woods, 38, isn’t a total surprise, even though his agent, Mark Steinberg, had said that Tiger had “intended” to play at Bay Hill.
Three weeks ago, Woods withdrew during the final round of the Honda Classic because of back issues. His physical struggles continued when he played the next week, complaining of back spasms during the final round at Doral. He shot 78, his highest score for a final round.
His best finish in four starts this season is a tie for 25th at the Cadillac Championships.
Woods was set to make his 18th start at Bay Hill, having missed the cut only once (as an amateur in his first start in 1994).
Tiger also was looking to three-peat at Arnie’s tournament. The defending champion defeated Justin Rose by two shots last year in the storm-delayed event, carding a 2-under 70. Woods also replaced Rory McIIroy for the No. 1 world ranking – the first time since Oct. 30, 2010.
With his API win, Woods tied a PGA Tour record by winning a single event for the eighth time; Woods also has posted eight wins at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open. Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times.
Whether Woods is skipping Palmer’s event to rest up for the Masters can be debated, but this much cannot be argued: Somebody else’s name will be on the trophy for the first time in three years.
©2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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