DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Tiger Woods felt rusty and tired Tuesday at The Players Championship — rust 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 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. Tuesday was nine years to the day that a memorial service for Earl Woods was held at the Tiger Woods Learning Center.
“I haven’t slept,” he said. “These three days, May 3rd 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.
Woods turned in a remarkable performance at the Masters — not so much by previous standards but by 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. He missed last year while recovering from back surgery. It was his second victory at TPC Sawgrass. He was a runner-up to Hal Sutton in 2000. But he also has 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, though he has shown over his career that he can win anywhere if he’s 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 polarizing. You either have it or you don’t.”
Woods will have three weeks off after The Players and then plans a regular summer schedule. He will play every other week starting with the Memorial through the PGA Championship. He was at Sawgrass with swing consultant Chris Como. As he has said before, it is a work in progress.
“It’s certainly coming,” he said. “I’ve made some huge, huge strides since what I was at Torrey and what I was at Phoenix. Huge. … I’m on the right road. Eventually, it’ll click in and I’ll have a little run here.”
If it’s the right road, it’s a long one.
Woods hasn’t won since the Bridgestone Invitational in August 2013. He hasn’t played much since because of back problems that led to surgery, after which he released another swing coach. He is No. 125 in the world. He is No. 196 in the FedEx Cup, two spots below John Daly.
Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, is not expected to arrive until Wednesday. He has taken over in golf by winning four of the last 16 majors, and he is coming off another World Golf Championship title at the Match Play.
Spieth was playing an 18-hole match with best buddy Justin Thomas, another 21-year-old in Daniel Berger and Jimmy Walker.
Woods played nine holes, spoke to the media and then retreated to the practice area. There is still work to do.
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