Was Tiger’s schedule of four events in five weeks overly ambitious?

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Something happened between the Bahamas and Dubai, by way of San Diego. Gone in the Middle East was the guy who exuded confidence and fitness in the Caribbean. Missing were the free-flowing swings, replaced by a golfer who one television commentator said looked “like an old man.”

Tiger Woods got seven rounds into his comeback from multiple back surgeries and limped to the sideline again. He came all the way to the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, a 17-hour flight from Los Angeles, to play 18 holes of tournament golf. He left with doubts looming larger.

The official reason given was back spasms, described by Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, as not related to the nerve damage and surgeries that have plagued him the past three years. Steinberg suggested this was a short-term problem and didn’t discount Woods’ ability to play in two weeks at the Genesis Open.

But even Woods’ longtime agent acknowledged, “I’m sure there’s so many different factors that go into it. I just couldn’t know what causes a back to go into spasm. Look, he doesn’t have the strongest back in the world, right?”

Despite saying otherwise, Woods did not look right during the opening round on Thursday. Frankly, he didn’t look all that great at the Farmers Insurance Open last week in San Diego, either.

At Torrey Pines, his performance was attributed to cold weather, thick wet rough and narrow fairways. Woods never appeared comfortable, but that was easily explained: a guy with a bad back who has hardly played in the past 18 months might be excused if he didn’t want to overdo it.

At Emirates Golf Club, there would be warm weather and a more benign course. Woods arrived in the wee hours on Tuesday and was at the course by noon to hit balls; he did so carefully and without much intensity, maybe as simple as trying to get loose after a long flight.

There seemed to be no apparent issues in the Wednesday pro-am, where Woods has never gone all-out. He looked and sounded fine, chatted several times between shots. He didn’t hit his irons particularly well, but it was standard fare, no alarms.

From the moment he hit his first tee shot on Thursday, Woods looked different. He walked gingerly and did not swing freely. On the first hole he emerged from a greenside bunker so awkwardly that Golf Channel commentator Brandel Chamblee said the golfer “looked like an old man.”

On his third hole, Woods barely missed the fairway, then played his second shot on the par-4 from the rough without going after it like he normally might. The ball came to rest short of the green, from…