TIGER Woods felt rusty and tired yesterday at The Players Championship – rusty because he has played one tournament in three months, fatigue because of his personal life.
He said only part of that was breaking up with Lindsey Vonn.
Woods and the Olympic ski champion jointly announced on Sunday that they were splitting up after more than two years because of their hectic schedules as athletes.
“Obviously, it does affect me,” Woods said after a nine-hole practice round at TPC Sawgrass. “It’s tough. There’s no doubt. I’m not going to lie about that. And on top of that, this time of the year is really, really hard on me.”
Sunday was the anniversary of his father’s death and yesterday was nine years to the day that a memorial service for Earl Woods was held at the Tiger Woods Learning Centre.
“I haven’t slept,” he said. “These three days, 3 May and through the 5th, today, is just brutal on me. And then with obviously what happened on Sunday, it just adds to it.”
His time on the golf course hasn’t been terribly easy, though Woods believes he is making progress. He turned in a remarkable performance at the Masters – not so much by previous standards, but by his recent play.
His chipping was shockingly bad when he shot 82 in the Phoenix Open to miss the cut by 12 shots, and at Torrey Pines when he withdrew after 11 holes on a cool day because of tightness in his back. Woods stepped away until he could fix his game.
At Augusta National, it was as if that was never an issue. He never had a chance to win – not many did the way Jordan Spieth played – and tied for 17th.
Woods did not qualify for the Match Play Championship last week because he has dropped out of the top 100 in the world for the first time since he first came on tour in 1996. And he didn’t sound entirely optimistic about carrying any momentum from the Masters onto a course that has been feast or famine for him through the years.
“I’d like to say yes,” he said. “I’ve had some pretty good practice sessions. My short game still feels really good. We made a couple little swing tweaks since then to keep improving, to keep working on it, to keep getting it better, so that part is still a little bit fresh. I’m going to start playing a little bit more now.”
Woods won The Players the last time he played in 2013. It was his second victory at Sawgrass. He missed last year while recovering from back surgery. He was a runner-up to Hal Sutton in 2000. But he has also withdrawn twice and has finished out of the top 20 on six other occasions.
He has never been a big fan of this Pete Dye design (Sawgrass), but he has shown over his career that he can win anywhere if he is playing well. “I’m telling you, when you’re on, this golf course doesn’t seem that hard,” Woods said. “You can really go low. You feel like every round you shoot 67 or lower. And then you get days where, ‘God, I feel like I can’t break 75 here’. It’s one of those places. It’s very polarising. You either have it or you don’t.”
Woods played nine holes, spoke to the media and then retreated to the practice area. There is still work to do.