Tiger Woods withdrew from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational during Sunday's final round, sparking fears that he had suffered further serious damage to his back.
Playing just his third event since undergoing microdiscectomy surgery on March 31, Woods had completed his opening eight holes in three over par to lie four over for the tournament when he pulled out on the ninth hole at Firestone Country Club, clearly in considerable pain.
The former world number one stood and clutched his back after hitting his tee shot on the 494-yard par four, and then winced as he struggled to bend down to pick up his tee.
And minutes later he was on a golf cart being driven straight to the car park, where he again looked in real discomfort as he prepared to leave a venue where he has won eight times, including by seven shots last year.
In the car park, Woods, leaned on his courtesy vehicle for support as he struggled to remove his shoes.
Asked if he had suffered the same injury which led to the operation and ruled him out of the Masters and US Open, Woods told reporters: "It's just the whole lower back.
"It happened on the second hole when I hit my second shot. I fell back into the bunker. Just jarred it. It's been spasming ever since."
On his prospects of playing in the US PGA Championship next week at Valhalla, where he beat Bob May in a play-off in 2000, the 38-year-old added: "I don't know, I'm just trying to get out of here.'
Woods then gingerly made his way to the passenger side of his courtesy car before being driven away by caddie Joe LaCava.
The 14-time major winner had made the ideal start to his round with a birdie on the first but his game quickly fell apart after he had to make the difficult shot on the second.
He mis-hit his approach to the third into water where he had to settle for a bogey and the wheels started to come off on the par-three fifth.
He inexplicably hit an appalling tee shot, dropping his iron behind him and putting his head in his hands as the ball fell 60 yards short of the green although he managed to put it close with an excellent chip and salvage a par.
Now obviously suffering discomfort which was affecting his game, the sixth hole proved to be a complete disaster as he hit a poor tee shot and then, from the rough, put his second shot close to a hotdog stall amongst the spectators. From there he hit a remarkable shot onto the green but could only manage a bogey.
A double bogey on the seventh was a sign of a growing crisis and by the time he reached the ninth he was clearly suffering and was forced to call it a day after hitting his tee shot.
There was immediate speculation that Woods had paid the price for coming back from back surgery to remove pressure on a pinched nerve too soon.
European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley said: "He looks like he's maybe come back too early. The way he played I saw him hit shots on the front nine there that I've never seen him in his life come close to hitting. There's obviously something going on."
Commentator Nick Faldo also said Woods had probably pushed too hard too soon.
Woods missed the cut in his first event back at the end of June and then suffered his worst ever 72-hole finish in a major championship as a professional, ending up 69th in the Open at Royal Liverpool despite an opening 69.
He had previously spoken about being "pain-free" for the first time in two years, but said on Wednesday that other people who had undergone the same surgery were surprised he was able to play again so quickly.
"This is only my third event back after back surgery and that's something that I have had to keep in mind. I've been in this situation before and it takes a bit of time," Woods said in his pre-tournament press conference in Akron.
"The knee (injury) is so much easier to come back from. The back injury was way more debilitating than I thought. And most of the people I talked to who have had the procedure have no idea how I'm even back here playing. They just can't understand that."
Woods did joke that the operation had at least one beneficial side-effect, adding: "We've been trying to shorten my swing over the years and the perfect way to do it is just have back surgery. I can't turn that far."
Woods has been drawn to play alongside Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington at Valhalla but his participation in the final major of the year looks extremely unlikely. This latest crisis is also expected to rule him out of the Ryder Cup next month.
Original headline: Latest Woods injury looks to end golf legend's season
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