Tiger Woods admitted to being worried about the future after he withdrew injured from the Players Championship for the second consecutive year yesterday. The former world No 1 was six over for his first nine holes when he finally decided to hobble back to the Sawgrass clubhouse.
Woods had not played since the Masters five weeks ago and despite insisting it was a "minor injury" should have had more time in recuperation as his knee gave way on his first drive. "It was a chain effect," he said, as his Achilles followed suit and then his calf "started cramping up".
"I'm having a hard time walking," said Woods, who now may fall out of the world top 10 this weekend. "I felt fine during the warm-up and then as I played it progressively got worse."
The injuries accounted for many of the 42 shots he took to the turn – his second worse score for nine holes in his 15-year career – although he was man enough to confess that the two pitching-wedges he hit into the water on the fourth on the way to a treble-bogey seven "were just awful shots". When he bogeyed the ninth, he bowed to the inevitable. He agreed he should have quit earlier. Last year it was a sore neck which led to his exit – he lasted 60 holes then – but this year's diagnosis will be of more concern.
Woods has endured four operations on his left knee, the last of which was a reconstruction three years ago which kept him out for eight months. Asked if he has worries about it flaring up again, he said: "I have. It's just a matter of what we're going to do about it." Woods said he was "surprised this came about today. The treatment's been getting better." Added the 35-year-old: "It just wasn't enough... The doctors said I could play."
With the season's second major just five weeks away, Woods will urgently seek the medics' guidance. Time is just one more foe against him. Of course, he won the US Open in 2008 with a broken leg but that was Tiger pre-scandal. Now, without a win in 18 months and in the middle of a swing change, the impossible seems exactly that.
Woods' departure overshadowed the opening morning of the £5.8m event, the richest in golf. Nick Watney set the early clubhouse target on eight-under after a 64, but of more interest to the stayaway Lee Westwood was the presence of Martin Kaymer, three shots behind courtesy on an ominous 67. The German needs a top-two finish to replace the Englishman as world No 1. Luke Donald, the world No 3 who requires a win to leapfrog Westwood, shot 69.