A quick 9: Tiger Woods withdraws from Players Championship

Nick Watney's 64 leads Lucas Glover by a shot, Mark O'Meara by two

May 13, 2011|By Jeff Shain, Tribune Newspapers

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — On the eve of The Players Championship, Tiger Woods went out to dinner with Mark O'Meara and his wife — an infrequent occasion these days as O'Meara plays his golf on the Champions Tour.

"How's Mark hitting it?" Meredith O'Meara asked.

Woods' reply: "Short."

Well, check out whose name was near the top of Thursday's leaderboard: O'Meara, whose sprightly 6-under-par 66 left him two shots behind leader Nick Watney in a tie for third.

As for Woods? He was long gone — back home in the Orlando area after his injured left knee left him unable to finish his round for the second consecutive year and looking very much the old man.

"I'm having a hard time walking," said Woods, who withdrew after nine holes that reduced his gait to a slow hobble.

Golf's woebegone drawing card said he aggravated the knee on his opening tee shot, though he soldiered through a 6-over 42. It was three shots more than his previous high for nine holes at TPC Sawgrass and one shot off the worst nine-hole score of his career.

"The knee acted up," Woods said, "and then the Achilles followed after that and then the calf started cramping up. Everything started getting tight, so it's just a whole chain reaction."

A year ago, neck pain forced Woods to withdraw after six holes of the final round. It was his first injury withdrawal as a professional; Thursday brought his second.

Woods suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament at the Masters, though it didn't keep him from a final-round 67 that lifted him into a tie for fourth. But he didn't start hitting balls again until Monday, followed by nine-hole practice rounds the next two days.

"You could tell," playing partner Matt Kuchar said. "That walk wasn't normal, and by the third hole, we started seeing some grimacing. … He definitely was walking much slower than us."

At times, Woods was more than a minute behind Kuchar, Martin Kaymer and the trio's caddies while walking to their second shots. After his tee shot at the par-3 eighth hole, he watched the ball's flight from a "flamingo" stance — his left foot lifted completely off the ground.

Woods said doctors had given him the go-ahead to play this week, but "it's a bit of a struggle."

Enough so to raise questions about whether Woods will be healthy enough for the U.S. Open, which begins in five weeks at Congressional.

Watney carded nine birdies and an eagle on the way to a 64, flirting with the TPC Sawgrass tournament record before settling in one shot ahead of Lucas Glover. Watney's front-side 30 did match The Players Championship's best nine-hole score.

"I felt very much in control," said Watney, who got in a couple of extra practice days at TPC Sawgrass after missing the cut last week in Charlotte. "I wish I could have kept going, really."

As did O'Meara, 54, whose 66 was one off his best round in 23 previous appearances at The Players Championship. He hadn't teed it up at TPC Sawgrass since 2003 but drew encouragement from a visit last month in which he shot 68.

"Yeah, I'm not 32 and strong, but I hit it far enough," he said. "If I make a good swing and trust it, I can still get it out there. I know I can still play."

jshain@tribune.com

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