PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The first flinch came on the fourth tee when the 3-wood Tiger Woods hit for control veered wildly into the left rough. He flexed his four-time surgically repaired left knee, rubbed it, then bent down and untied and retied his shoe. His usually quick gait became a slower and slower shuffle down the fairway.
About 90 minutes later, and after taking 42 strokes on the front nine of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, Woods quit the Players Championship for the second consecutive year, citing pain in his left knee and left Achilles heel. He said he would not know until after consulting with doctors when he would be able to play again. His next normal stop is The Memorial, June 2-5.
"Yeah, the knee acted up and then the Achilles followed after that and then the calf started cramping up," Woods said after withdrawing, adding that he felt discomfort from the first shot he hit. "Everything started getting tight, so it's just a whole chain reaction." The 42 was nearly the worst ever for Woods in a PGA Tour event. Four times, including last year at the Wells Fargo Championship, Tiger has shot 43.
Woods, who first admitted he had re-injured the knee after returning from a trip to China and Korea in April and withdrawing before the start of the Wells Fargo Championship, said earlier this week he had not hit balls since the Masters until this Monday and that his nine-hole practice round on Tuesday was his first venture onto a golf course since finishing T-4 at Augusta National.
All that raised the questions as to why he would even attempt to compete at the Players on a course where he has not had much success. "They said I could play," Woods said about the doctors treating him. "The more rest I get, the better it would be, obviously. [The Players] is a big event. I want to come back for it and play, and unfortunately I wasn't able to finish."
The simple truth is that Woods hit an astonishing number of shockingly bad golf shots during his nine holes Thursday. Whether they were the result of knee pain, swing flaws or a lack on mental engagement with the game is a fascinating question to ponder. At times there was evidence to back each of those three conclusions. When he grimaced after his approach shot on No. 7, it was not clear if it was the result of pain or disgust.
On the first hole, Woods drove with a 3-wood while Martin Kaymer and Matt Kuchar both hit driver. They hit the fairway while Tiger pulled his shot into the left rough, leaving him 40 yards behind his playing partners and with no shot to the green. After missing the green in the short rough, his par putt was longer than the birdie putts for either Kaymer or Kuchar. He began the day with a bogey.
On No. 2, Woods was comfortably in the short cut of rough off the tee then pulled his second shot on the par 5 into the thick rough left of the green from where he left his chip short of the green, still in the rough, and had to make a one-putt par on a birdie hole.
After the wild drive on No. 4 -- which was followed by a colorful string of words that offered a X-rated evaluation of the golf swing he had just made -- Woods hit his second shot from an awkward lie in the rough into the water short of the green, took a penalty drop and then chipped into the water. Yes, it was a difficult shot from a downhill, tight lie, but still -- Tiger Woods chipping into the water? How many times have you seen that?
The painful round ended in a similar fashion when he hit into the rough behind the ninth green with his second shot on the par 5, and then, hitting to a short-side pin and mindful of overhanging tree limbs, hit the ball about half as far as he needed to and into a fried-egg lie in the bunker. The magical shots we have grown accustomed to seeing for the last 15 years are just not there right now.
Woods played the bunker shot without taking any time, hit it to 25 feet, two-putted for a bogey and walked toward the 10th tee, stopping halfway to shake hands with Kuchar and Kaymer and to tell them they were now a twosome. Last year, Tiger withdrew at the Players on the seventh hole Sunday after rounds of 70, 71 and 71 that left him well out of contention.
The winless streak for Woods is now at 541 days. Not only is there no clear indication when he might win again, but now we have no idea when he will play again. There were certainly times Thursday when it appeared as if the last place Tiger Woods wanted to be was on a golf course. And when he left the property after his truncated first round, no one -- not even him -- knew when he would next be on a golf course. A man used to being in control suddenly now has precious little control of his future.
-- Ron Sirak
(Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)