PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The man who played nine holes Thursday morning at TPC Sawgrass had Steve Williams on the bag and a Nike logo on his chest, but otherwise bore no resemblance to the Tiger Woods we’ve watched for so many years and greater resemblance to the one we’ve seen over the past 12 months.
Woods opened with a routine bogey – and yes, his bogeys have become routine – made par on the next two holes, then found his Waterloo on the fourth, heavy on the water. After a pulled 3-wood off the tee, his approach shot splashed, then he dropped some 30 yards from the green and uncharacteristically chunked a chip into the same hazard. That triple-bogey was followed by a bogey-par-par-par-bogey finish for a front-nine 6-over 42.
And then he was done.
Woods withdrew from The Players Championship for the second consecutive year, citing lingering injuries to his left knee and Achilles. There’s no question these issues affected his game on Thursday, as he walked with a noticeable limp throughout the round, even using one of his clubs as a crutch at times.
'Yeah, the knee acted up and then the Achilles followed after that and then the calf started cramping up,' Woods said. 'Everything started getting tight, so it's just a whole chain reaction.'
What is unclear, however, is how the injuries affected his mindset and confidence.
A pulled drive here, a fanned approach there – those can be explained away as the result of physical issues that are hampering his swing.
Chunked chips – yes, plural for those nine holes – and a demeanor that screamed his give-a-heck meter was on empty may each be a sign that Woods continues to have issues that are larger than physical injuries.
One thing is certain after Woods’ latest denouement: His future remains in doubt, perhaps now more than ever before.