Golf Great Arnold Palmer Says Back Problems Could Keep Tiger Woods from Catching Jack Nicklaus’ Record

(Photo: Andrew Weber, USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Andrew Weber, USA TODAY Sports)

Tackling the twilight of his career with the same head-on approach that made him The King, Arnold Palmer said Wednesday prior to his tournament at Bay Hill that he faces back surgery in the next 30 days.

Palmer says he’s “about a month away from having an operation on my back to help me enjoy the game a little more. And I will do that after the Masters and see if I can’t just get a little more comfortable playing the game.”

Yes, at 84, Palmer still wants to tee it up every day. Palmer battled back problems during his peak – “We called it a hip problem back then,” he said – and was forced to withdraw from the PGA Championship in 1969. Palmer said he had many exams on his back over the years, including MRIs, and sympathizes with Tiger Woods.

The world’s No. 1 player withdrew Tuesday from the Arnold Palmer Invitational because of back spasms that have troubled him since August. Woods hopes to play in the Masters in three weeks.

“Well, of course he didn’t tell me how bad his back is,” Palmer said about his call from Woods. “I don’t think he knows how bad his back is. I think he’s listening to the doctors. … He just feels that at this stage, he needs to take his time and rest, whether it’s this week, next week or the following week, to get ready for Augusta. Certainly if I were in that position I’d be doing much the same.”

Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since winning the 2008 U.S. Open, and now, at 38, his goal to catch Nicklaus’ record of 18 could be derailed.

“I don’t think 38 years is the ultimate stopping point for his quest to do what Jack did,” Palmer said. “I think it lessens the possibility of that happening. It’s going to be tough to keep the concentration and the type of game that is necessary to win majors.

“Add in the fact that (the depth of talent is) tough. And they’re strong. … And the fear of a player being so good that they back off, I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think that the players that are going to win and win major championships have to be physically fit and mentally fit.”

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Steve DiMeglio

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