PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Dressed in his Sunday red shirt, Tiger Woods bowed his head and sat in silence in front of his locker.
He was supposed to be on the ninth hole at The Players Championship. In another stunning twist for someone whose life used to be so predictable, Woods withdrew suddenly with neck pain that he fears might be a bulging disk.
Woods was so frustrated that he slammed his golf shoe to the floor while taking questions from three reporters.
"I've been playing through it," Woods said of pain he first felt before the Masters. "I can't play through it anymore."
Meanwhile, Tim Clark couldn't afford to look at the leaderboard, much less consider what it would mean to end 204 tournaments of frustration and finally win on the PGA Tour.
Clark played the final 26 holes without a bogey. He set a Stadium Course record with the largest 36-hole comeback. And with an eight-foot par putt on the final hole for a 5-under 67, he no longer had the distinction as the richest player without a PGA Tour victory.
"A part of me is a bit disappointed because now no one is going to talk about me anymore," Clark said. "At least you had something to write about before. Now I'm just another guy with a win."
Woods said he did not know what caused the injury, only that "playing doesn't help it." He took 10 questions before going into a physical therapy trailer for 37 minutes and leaving the TPC Sawgrass.
"I knew his neck had been bothering him but Tiger doesn't ever make excuses, so it was hard to tell just how bad it was," swing coach Hank Haney said in a statement. "Having said that he won the U.S. Open on a broken leg and if he couldn't play anymore today it must be pretty bad."
This is Woods' first withdrawal from a tournament since the Nissan Open at Riviera in 2006, when he narrowly made the cut and withdrew from the final two rounds because of the flu. He also withdrew from the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills as a 19-year-old amateur because of a wrist injury from hitting out of deep rough.
This one caught everyone by surprise.
The only time he had mentioned his neck was during a news conference last month at the Masters. Woods was taken to the hospital Nov. 27 after driving his SUV over a fire hydrant and into a tree, the infamous accident that set off shocking revelations of extramarital affairs that led to his five-month break from golf.
Asked at Augusta what injuries he suffered that night, Woods said, "I had a busted-up lip and a pretty sore neck, and that was it."
After hitting his tee shot at No. 7 well right, Woods called for an official. He hit his second shot and grimaced, then walked to the middle of the fairway, shook hands with playing partner Jason Bohn and left in a golf cart.
Woods plans to have an MRI next week. He said he was having a hard time with the pain, and that there was a tingling sensation on his right side down to his fingers.
Woods had rounds of 70-71-71 and was tied for 45th going into the last round.
He kept his No. 1 ranking, though. Phil Mickelson could have claimed the top spot with a victory, but he shot 2 over in the final round and tied for 17th - nine strokes behind winner Tim Clark.
Regarded among the best without a PGA Tour title, Clark shed that label by beating the best field in golf.
He made four birdies around the turn to surge past Lee Westwood and Robert Allenby, steadied himself on the scary island-green 17th for a par then finished off his amazing weekend with a demonstrative fist pump when his par putt fell.
"I did all I could there," said Clark, a 34-year-old South African. "That's as good as I could have played."
Allenby had the best chance to catch him, but ended up a stroke back. He narrowly missed an 18-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole to tie for the lead.
Lucas Glover shot 31 on the back and wound up third at 14-under 274.30.22576 -81.38597