PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods was in good spirits on Tuesday morning at TPC Sawgrass, and, more importantly, he was moving well. This was a welcome sight for the small gallery (by Tiger standards) following him, especially in the chilly temperatures (by Florida standards) that can often be concerning for a man with his injury history.
Woods, who pulled out of last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational citing a neck injury, looks set to make his 19th start in the Players Championship on Thursday afternoon. As of now, he says he's pain-free, but that's always subject to change with the 14-time major champion. This latest flareup first arose in February at Riviera, where Woods finished in a tie for 15th at the Genesis Open. It got worse at the WGC-Mexico Championship, forcing him to withdraw from Bay Hill as a precautionary measure.
"It's not painful now," Woods said during his Tuesday press conference at TPC Sawgrass. "It was getting to the point where it was affecting my setup, my backswing, my through swing. It was just gradually getting worse. That's just because my lower back is fused, and so the stress has to go somewhere if I don't have movement, and so it's very important for me going forward since the surgery to keep pliable or else the stress is going to go somewhere else."
That "somewhere else," according to Woods, could be anywhere. So we shouldn't expect him to get through an entire season without a few bumps and bruises. Even last year, when Woods played in and finished all 18 of his events, there were concerning moments.
"It [Woods' neck] flared up at the British Open. I had it there and I had it pretty much early part of the playoffs and then it started going away," Woods said on Tuesday. "It's just part of the nature of the sport. If you have force, it's got to go somewhere. If it's not my lower back, it's going to be in the hip, it's going to be—you know I have had four knee operations. It's got to go somewhere. We're not immune to having the forces go somewhere. Eventually on a repetitive sport, you're going to wear out something."
Long term, it's something he'll just have to deal with, though he doesn't expect it to keep him out for long periods of time. That being said, Woods is still taking it step-by-step, opting not to commit to any upcoming tournaments (Valspar, WGC-Match Play) until he sees how he feels over what he hopes will be 72 holes at Sawgrass.
"We'll see how it goes," Woods said. "We'll see how everything goes here. This is an important week. I'm going to focus on this week, and then I'll let you guys know later in the week."
This week, Woods is gunning for his third victory in the event, something only Jack Nicklaus has accomplished, though all three of his victories came before the tournament was moved to Pete Dye's Stadium Course in 1982. Winning three times here, which no one has ever done, would be a remarkable accomplishment.
Despite the latest injury setback, a victory is still on Woods' mind, judging by the answer he gave to a question about whether or not he studies analytics within his own game.
"Yeah, I do. Wins."