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Teeing Off: Should Tiger Woods be playing this week at Bay Hill?

Shane Bacon
Devil Ball Golf
Tiger Woods hurt
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Tiger Woods — Getty Images

Welcome to Teeing Off, where Devil Ball editor Shane Bacon and national columnist Jay Busbee take a day's topic and smack it all over the course. Suggest a future topic by hitting us on Twitter at @shanebacon and @jaybusbee. Today we talk about Tiger Woods and if playing this week at Bay Hill is a smart move for his immediate future. 

Bacon: If we know anything about Tiger Woods, it's that he has a few golf courses on the PGA Tour that really fit his game. He loves Torrey Pines and Firestone and Memorial, but Bay Hill is a golf course that Woods simply dominates. Eight times we've seen Woods leave the 72nd hole a champion, but this week is a little different for the No. 1 player in the world. Tiger's been dealing with back issues for the better part of his season, and it forced him to withdraw at the Honda Classic and struggle at Doral. So, my question, is it smart for Tiger to tee it up this week at a course he's comfortable at with a chance of re-injuring his back and possibly messing up his Masters chances, or does he need the reps to have an actual shot at another green jacket? 

Busbee: He needs the reps. It's a process. He's making the shots. It's a process. He's happy with how he's playing. It's a process.

Enjoying my mock Tiger Woods press conference? You know that's how it's going to go. To answer the question directly: yes, I think he should play. As we've seen these last few years, Woods' mental game is faltering -- how else to explain his consistent weekend meltdowns at majors? -- and there's nothing better for the mental game than a familiar track. Bay Hill will give Woods the kind of comfort he needs to go into Augusta feeling optimistic, if not completely healthy. You?

Bacon: But Tiger has won this event the past two seasons and it didn't translate to Augusta success, and I think him attempting to play at Doral was a big mistake considering his current health issues. The number one thing Woods should be focusing on right now is getting healthy, because if he does something else to injury his back he could be out for not just weeks, but months. That means missing the Masters, missing out on a chance to compete at Pinehurst and really ruining another season of major championship opportunities. Tiger's body isn't what it once was, and taking the appropriate rest to be ready for Augusta seems like priority number one over trying to win a ninth title at Bay Hill. 

Busbee: Fair point. I suppose we really need to know  how injured Woods' back truly is, don't we? He does get all kinds of grief for overblowing and overplaying his injuries, but the truth is that he's actually an extraordinarily tough guy. (Plus, now he's got Human Rehab Machine Lindsey Vonn as his companion.) I still tend to think that getting the play in on a familiar course would be helpful, but then again that might force Woods to play at less than 100 percent ... and we know he's not going to do that. What's your intuition tell you about how badly he's hurt?

Bacon: I absolutely agree with you that Tiger is tough, and no matter the injury he will stick it out if he's in contention, but isn't a bad week at Bay Hill way worse than a win would be good for him? The back seems like it's a nagging injury, and I really think that rest is something that Woods needs, but won't do. If he continues to play on this back that isn't 100 percent I just see it doing more damage than good and that is my concern with him giving it a go this week. Also, what if he gets out there, plays, and the back starts hurting again? Would a second withdraw in three starts be the par-5 of red flags? Just so many questions that we won't get the answers to until he's out on the golf course trying to play through the pain while trying to find a golf game that has been nonexistent this season. One final question for you - do you see any way that Tiger would win the Masters considering how his year has gone? 

Busbee: At the moment, I can't see Woods winning the Masters. We've talked for years about how he's coming back to the pack ... and about how the pack is rising to meet him, too. The days of Woods intimidating the field are the stuff of documentaries now, not fact. (Patrick Reed was seven when Woods first won at Augusta. Let that sink in.) Woods has to be at the pinnacle of his game to win now, and he's nowhere near that now. I think he'll gut out another top-10 finish, but he'll be playing early on Sunday and he'll be slamming that trunk while the leaders are still at Amen Corner. You?

Bacon: Honestly, I think it will be more of a 2012 situation than him playing well enough to finish in the top-10. He hasn't played a good tournament this entire year and somehow he's going to find his game at a place that has seemed to have his number over the last few years? I just don't see it happening. In the old days we had this "Tiger won't win BUT ..." mentality but I'm fairly confident that if he goes into the Masters with a bad back and a game that hasn't shown us much this season it won't be a pretty picture for Tiger at our first major championship. 

Now, give us your thoughts on Tiger ... should he play this week, and what are his chances at the Masters?

Update: Well, not because of our advice, but Tiger Woods has officially withdrawn from the Arnold Palmer invitational because of the bad back.  

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