Tiger Woods had lower right back fusion surgery Wednesday in hopes of alleviating the ongoing pain that has plagued him in recent years, effectively ending his 2017 golf season.
The 14-time major champion announced the surgery on his website Thursday.
“The surgery went well, and I’m optimistic this will relieve my back spasms and pain,” Woods, 41, said. “When healed, I look forward to getting back to a normal life, playing with my kids, competing in professional golf and living without the pain I have been battling so long.”
His agent, Mark Steinberg, described the procedure to ESPN as “something dramatically different than he’s done in the past.”
Steinberg said Woods consulted numerous specialists as back spasms continued to cause pain and discomfort.
“This is the best and only way to have a healthy, active lifestyle, be able to play with his kids, play golf and not be in pain,” Steinberg told ESPN.
The anterior lumbar interbody fusion was performed by Dr. Richard Guyer of the Center for Disc Replacement at the Texas Back Institute.
This was the fourth procedure that Woods has had on his back, the first of which was a microdiskectomy on March 31, 2014. He had two similar procedures in the fall of 2015, stayed away from competition for more than a year, then made a comeback the lasted three events and just seven rounds.
Guyer said Woods will “gradually begin his rehabilitation” after he recovers from surgery.
“Once that’s accomplished, his workouts will be geared to allowing him to return to competitive golf,” Guyer said.
No timetable for a return to competition was offered, though Woods’ website said he would rest for several weeks, with patients typically returning to full activity in six months. If that is the case, Woods would miss all of the major championships for the second consecutive year and would be looking at a late fall return to competition, at the earliest.
Steinberg said it was too early to speculate on any of that at this point.
Just Tuesday, Woods hit two practice shots during a course design announcement in Missouri and said that his back “was progressing.”
According to Woods’ website, the latest surgery was performed because the bottom lower-back disk had severely narrowed because of previous herniations and surgeries. Conservative therapy, which included rehabilitation, medications and limiting activities, failed as a permanent solution, and Woods opted to have surgery.
The minimally invasive procedure, according to the website, entailed removing the damaged disk and re-elevating the collapsed disk space to normal levels. The goal is to relieve the pressure on the nerve and to give the nerve the best chance of healing.
“You can continue to try and do the band-aid approach, but if you want that healthy, active lifestyle, it was recommended that this is the way to go at this point and the doctor was very pleased with the result,” Steinberg told ESPN. “Tiger kind of feels a weight off his shoulders as this is a path to recovery.”
He added later: “What we’re learning is a fusion is something that you do after you’ve tried just about everything else. He could have continued trying some of the other procedures.
But with the knowledge Tiger got, this fusion was the path to the proper recovery that will allow him to do the things he wants to do.”
After a relatively successful return in December at the Hero World Challenge — where he led the field in birdies — Woods planned an ambitious early 2017 schedule that saw him hoping to play four tournaments in five weeks.
But that did not last long. After missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, Woods went to Dubai where he played just one round, shooting a birdie-free 77. On his last drive of the day, Woods busted a 324-yard tee shot and missed a 10-foot birdie putt.
That night, however, Woods began experiencing pain, and he withdrew the next day. Although originally said to be a short-term issue, Woods did not make any scheduled starts afterward.
“The grueling pain he was having came when the nerve and disk were touching,” Steinberg told ESPN. “There were times where he would be OK, he could swing, he could hit the ball and walk. There was nothing touching the nerve.
“[When the disc is touching the nerve], that’s when you go into these intense spasms that I don’t know how he was living with.” Steinberg said Woods truly wanted to play the Masters, and he attempted to get ready for it, through good days and bad days, before ultimately deciding he wasn’t prepared.
“That is the one place dear to his heart, knowledge of the golf course, where he felt he might be able to play,” said Steinberg, who noted that perhaps it was a “blessing in disguise” that Woods wasn’t able to play.
Woods, who has won 79 times on the PGA Tour, has not been the same since the end of a five-victory season in 2013 — when back problems first started to become apparent.
Since his first surgery in 2014, Woods has played in just 18 worldwide events, with seven missed cuts, three withdrawals and just one top-10 finish.