PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Tiger Woods heard a series of shutters from a spectator’s camera and stopped his swing at the last minute, knees flexed, club shaft parallel to the ground, holding his pose until he could regain his balance.
“Oh, no,” said the caddie for Mark O’Meara. “You’re starting to swing like Charles Barkley.”
Woods doubled over in laughter Tuesday on the eighth tee on the TPC Sawgrass, a light moment during his first time playing golf since disclosing minor knee and Achilles’ injuries from the Masters.
Woods said the left knee – which has gone through four surgeries – and his left Achilles’ are better.
“Good enough to play,” he said.
How much better remains to be seen, and Woods still has to make it to the first tee Thursday morning for the start of The Players Championship, where he hasn’t finished better than eighth since winning 10 years ago.
Woods said he tweaked his left knee from an awkward swing in the pine straw on the 17th hole of the Masters in the third round, and he played through the discomfort in the final round when he closed with a 67 after making a brief charge.
“It didn’t feel good on Sunday. That was tough,” Woods said. “I played through it, but … I was in the midst of playing and competing and had to power through it, so I did it. I was able to shut it down for a little bit and was able to care of it.”
Woods said he practiced Monday for the first time since the Masters. He played golf Tuesday – the front nine at Sawgrass – for the first time since that last day at Augusta. He is treating the injuries with anti-inflammatories, ice, elevating his legs and some soft tissue work. Still to be determined, since he hasn’t spent any time playing, is whether it swells.
“We’ll see how this week progresses,” he said. “If it flares up like it did at Augusta, then it flares ups. But hopefully, it won’t.”
Woods’ swing coach, Sean Foley, said he had been walking in a protective boot as a precaution. Woods chose not to play the Wells Fargo Championship last week, giving himself a week to see if the knee and Achilles’ improved. He said he would have played last week had it been a major, smiling as if to remind that he won a U.S. Open on a shattered left leg three years ago.
That was his 14th major, and the last time he won the tournaments that mean the most. And he made it clear, even at a tournament debated as the “fifth major,” that it remains his priority.
“The whole idea is that I peak four times a year, and I’m trying to get ready for Congressional, and I need some playing time,” Woods said. “I missed playing last week at a golf course I truly love playing, but I really want to get out there and compete. This is a big event, and I want to be here and play.”
The TPC Sawgrass is not among his favorites, and the record reflects that.
He was runner-up to Hal Sutton in 2000, then won The Players Championship the following year, when he went on to win the Masters to hold all four major titles. Since then, he has only one top 10 – eighth place, after starting the last round in the final group, five shots out of the lead.
Beyond not winning majors, Woods hasn’t won anything in 18 months, dating to the Australian Masters in November 2009. He is rebuilding his swing, and taking his share of criticism along the way, similar to previous swing changes.
Now, even the players are piling on.
Bubba Watson, who used to show up early at majors with hopes of playing practice rounds with Woods, said last week that Woods was “going the wrong way.”
“He’s so mental right now with his swing,” Watson said, a two-time winner this year.
Watson said he hasn’t spoken to Woods, only his agent and another person in Woods’ camp to explain that he “didn’t say anything wrong” and that the media blew it out of proportion.
“I just told him, ‘Look, you know me. I’m friends with you. I’ve been a supporter of you the whole time I’ve been a pro and have known you. So I’m here for you, but I didn’t do anything wrong,'” Watson said. “The camp says I’m OK, but I haven’t talked to the boss yet.”
Woods said he found the comments to be “interesting.” Asked if he had an issue, Woods smiled and said, “We’ll talk.”
U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell rallied from four shots behind to beat Woods in a playoff at the Chevron World Challenge, and was paired with him in early rounds twice this year, at Doral and the Masters.
“I see determination,” McDowell said. “I see a hunger, which are two key components to any player. … He’s displaying a lot of patience, as well. We all have our frustrating outbursts from time to time, but I think he’s been very patient considering what I’m sure he expects of himself. I think he’s a very determined man right now, though.”
As for that tee shot on the eighth?
Once the laughter subsided, Woods hit a 5-wood to 5 feet.