Tiger Woods pain free and ready to take on a tougher TPC Sawgrass this week

Tiger Woods has played down concerns that his recent neck injury could hamper his preparations for the Masters as he declared himself pain free ahead of The Players Championship.

Woods was forced to pull out of last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at his beloved Bay Hill, a tournament he has won eight times, and doubts were raised over whether he would be fit to compete at TPC Sawgrass.

But the 43-year-old was in good spirits when he arrived at the Ponte Vedra Beach venue on Monday, and he got through a nine-hole practice round early on Tuesday before giving another positive update on his fitness at his pre-tournament press conference.

Woods also discussed why he had sought advice from Justin Thomas’ putting coach Matt Killen, while he also detailed the main differences in playing at Sawgrass in May and March, being one of only 23 players in the field this week who have experienced both.

Here are the key lines from the Woods press conference on Tuesday …

The neck injury

“It’s not painful now. It was getting to the point where it was affecting my set-up, my backswing, my through swing. It was just gradually getting worse, but that’s just because my lower back is fused, and so the stress has to go somewhere if I don’t have movement, and so it’s very important for me going forward since the surgery to keep pliable or else the stress is going to go somewhere else.

“It started a little bit at LA (Genesis Open) but wasn’t a worry. But it started to get a little tighter and tighter and tighter as I played more holes in Mexico.

“You can only swing or make the movement as good as your body’s feeling. I was starting to get a little stiffer and tighter and I was hitting the ball halfway decent, but I wasn’t hitting it hard. I was just plodding along and just kind of getting around. And, as my neck got a little bit tighter, I didn’t feel comfortable with my putting.”

Masters preparation

“I’ve played three tournaments this year so far, and that’s about right. I was going to play three or four. If I would have got my rounds in last week, it would have been four tournaments, so I’m right there where I need to be.

“My finishes are getting a little bit better each and every time I’ve gone out so far this year, and I’ve gotten a little bit more consistent with my play, and I think that everything is headed on track towards April.”

Effect on 2019 schedule

“As I said last year, I played a lot from what I thought, because I kept qualifying for events and I kept trying to get into bigger events, tried to get my World Ranking up and try and qualify for the Play-offs. As I said the end of last year, I wasn’t going to play as many times as I did last year, so it’s just about trying to manage what I have.

“I’m 43 with four back surgeries, so I just manage what I have and understand that I’m going to have good weeks and bad weeks and try and manage as best I possibly can and not push it.

“There are times when over the years I pushed it, pushed it through a few things, and I’ve won a few tournaments doing it that way, but also I’ve cost myself a few years here and there because of it.”

Sawgrass in March

“It’s so familiar to some of us who have played in March. It’s soft, it’s wet, and we had the rain last night so we were getting mud balls and it’s back to how it used to play. It’s cooler, so the ball’s not going as far. The last hole last year I hit three-iron, nine-iron – today I hit three-wood and a three-iron. So, it’s a little bit different!

“The golf course just plays slower. The only year I really remember it being just brutally hard and fast was when David Duval won in 1999. I believe I shot 75-75 on the weekend and moved up, so that’s something that can happen here.

“It’s just that the golf course plays so much shorter in May than it does in March. That’s probably the biggest difference. We’re going to have to hit more club off the tees, have a little bit longer clubs into the greens, but the difference is the greens are much slower and much more receptive.”

Putting tips from Matt Killen

“Matt has seen my stroke enough, I’ve listened to what he has said to Justin Thomas over the past year or so, and I really respect what he sees. He’s very knowledgeable, I got a chance to talk to him a little bit at Hazeltine when JT was on the Ryder Cup team and I was a vice-captain, and we had some nice chats there, as well.

“I had been feeling that my stroke has been off, but a lot of it is physically. I’m having a hard time getting into the different postures. As my body’s felt better, my stroke has come back a little bit, but also I wanted to see where was I off, what did he see.

“I have putted with very different postures and styles over the years. To me it feels very different, but they have had a couple little things that have been very common. I like to putt with my right hand, I like to feel like the toe is releasing.

Live On The Range: Players – On The Range

March 13, 2019, 5:30pm

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“I’ve had some hit in my stroke, which a lot of people try and take that out of it, but I enjoy putting that way, and I’ve putted my best that way.”

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