JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Tiger Woods has withdrawn during a tournament for the first time since his return to competitive golf following spinal fusion surgery, citing an oblique strain Friday morning prior to the second round of the Northern Trust.
Woods shot 75 in the first round of the first FedEx Cup playoff event and was a long shot to make the cut at Liberty National, where in 2013 he showed the first major signs of back issues when he fell to the ground after hitting a shot during the final round.
"Due to a mild oblique strain that led to pain and stiffness, I have to withdraw from the Northern Trust," Woods said in a statement. "I went for treatment early Friday morning, but unfortunately I'm still unable to compete."
Woods is scheduled to play in next week's BMW Championship at Medinah and said, "Hopefully I can compete."
When and how the injury occurred is unknown, but Woods has noted back stiffness several times this summer and has suggested it is just part of life for him at this point. On Thursday, following the first round, he was asked about his back and said, "It's a little bit stiff, yeah, but that's just the way it is going to be."
Woods withdrew three days prior to the start of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March with a neck strain, but this is the first time since the 2017 Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour that he has withdrawn during an event.
That week, Woods had opened the tournament with a 77, then withdrew the next day with back spasms. He did not play again that season, opting for the spinal fusion surgery in April 2017 that did not allow him to take full swings for six months. That was the last of four procedures on his back.
Woods has never reported issues with his obliques, the muscles in the abdominal area that are responsible for core control and rotation. But he has said on numerous occasions that although his spine is fused, the "force has to go somewhere," and that it leads to some other issues he has experienced. A strain to muscles of the core can occur due to repetitive rotating. The injury is common among baseball players.
A source told ESPN's Michael Collins that Woods arrived at Liberty National on Friday morning and received treatment from the tour's fitness staff; it was after that he decided he would be unable to compete and left with his longtime friend and assistant Rob McNamara.
"He's being smart," said Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, who spoke to the golfer Friday. "I've said in the past, years ago, he just would have continued to play through all of this. If he had the same mentality he had years and years ago, he wouldn't be playing golf at all right now.
"He said it again the other day, this is the new normal. He's had multiple surgeries all over his body. These things now are not debilitating enough to keep him out for months at a time, but just enough that he can't compete at the level he needs to compete at. He shouldn't put himself in a position where he could put himself out for a long period of time. If you feel you should not go, you should not go.''
Steinberg said he would confer with Woods on Sunday and Monday to see how he is feeling and, if necessary, on Tuesday to make a decision about the BMW Championship.
Woods made a remarkable comeback in 2018 from the spinal fusion surgery, climbing the world rankings from 656th into the top 20 by contending at the Valspar Championship, The Open, the PGA Championship, the BMW Championship and then winning the Tour Championship.
He returned this year to post top-20 finishes at four of the five tournaments he played before the Masters, where he won in a tense back-nine duel over the likes of Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele. It was Woods' fifth Masters win and first major title since 2008, putting him within one victory of tying Sam Snead's PGA Tour record of 82 victories.
But he hasn't been the same since. Woods has not looked particularly sharp in any of his five starts since the Masters, although he did finish tied for ninth at the Memorial. He has missed cuts at the PGA and Open, needed a final-round 67 at Pebble Beach to tie for 21st at the U.S. Open, and was clearly off during his opening-round 75 here.
Woods has held steady at No. 5 in the world and entered this week at No. 28 in the FedEx Cup standings, projected to drop outside of the top 30. If he is able to play next week, he would need a decent result to qualify for the Tour Championship, where the final FedEx Cup playoff event begins on Aug. 22.