PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods didn’t have the results he wanted at the Players Championship, but he nonetheless left the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course feeling good about where his game is headed, specifically as it relates to the Masters next month.
“It’s right on track,” Woods said after shooting his first round of the tournament in the 60s, a 3-under-par 69. “I feel like I’m able to shape the ball both ways, which I’m going to need [at Augusta National]. Just need a few more putts to go in, but that’s about it.”
Even on the greens, Woods saw some improvement at the Players, where he had no 3-putts — after consecutive tournaments with six each — and took just 26 putts on Sunday.
But he was also unusually average with his iron play, ranking well down the field in strokes gained, approach to the green and tee to green after a surprisingly good driving week that saw him rank fourth in that category.
Woods finished at 282, 6 under par and in a tie for 31st.
“I’m excited the way I drove it,” he said. “I drove the ball well this week. I drove it not quite as long on the weekend with a little bit cooler temperatures, but I was driving it pretty straight, and I was able to shape the golf ball both ways with all three of my woods, which was good to see.”
Woods birdied three of his first seven holes to shoot 33 on the front side, then stalled on the back, with a single birdie and his only bogey at the 14th. He saved par at the 16th after his second shot found the water and managed to get up and down by chipping from the fringe on the par-3 17th — where he left himself nearly 60 feet from the hole.
Generally, it was a decent tournament for Woods, who tied for 11th here last year but was coming off a missed tournament a week ago because of a neck strain.
“I needed that,” Woods said of the time off. “I needed to get that organized, and as I was telling you guys earlier in the week, if my back gets tight, it’s going to go up the chain and so I got to start at ground zero and get my lower back moving properly and get everything good and after that everything will take care of itself.”
Although Woods missed a tournament he has won eight times, the week off was likely for the best, he said.
“It was the right decision to make considering that I have April right around the corner,” he said. “Wanted to make sure I get that organized coming into a week where you can hit a few shots where you’re standing on your head having to hit some weird shots, and the way I was feeling in Mexico, that would have been a tall order for me.”
Still, the tie for 31st was Woods’ worst in four tournament starts this year after a tie for 20th at the Farmers Insurance Open, a tie for 15th at the Genesis Open and a tie for 10th at the WGC-Mexico Championship. And the closest he has finished to the lead was 8 strokes back of winner J.B. Holmes at Riviera.
This was Woods’ last stroke-play event before the Masters, as his next start will be in two weeks at the WGC-Dell Match Play — a tournament he has won three times but one he has not played since 2013. He has also not competed in it at Austin Country Club, where it has been played since 2016.