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Bob Weeks

TSN Senior Reporter

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Tiger Woods arrived at TPC Sawgrass and declared himself pain free and ready to go for The Players Championship.

A week after withdrawing from the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a sore neck, Woods was swinging freely in a nine-hole practice round, showing no signs of restriction in his game.

“It's not painful now,” Woods said. “It was getting to the point where it was affecting my setup, my backswing, my through swing. It was just gradually getting worse.”

Woods chalked up the ailment to his fused back, saying that with his swing, the forces have to move somewhere and in this situation, that happened to be his neck.

Keeping his lower back more pliable will prevent a recurrence.

“I've got to stay fit. I've got to stay on it and have to stay as loose as I possibly can for as long as I play out here.”

The two-time Players champion arrives in Ponte Vedra, Fla., for just his fourth start of the season. He’s finished inside the top 20 in each of his previous starts despite a troublesome putter.

He’s recorded 10 three-putts in his last two tournaments, an unusually high number for a player known for a little magic with his flat stick. Part of that, he said, was due to the neck problems.

“As my neck got a little bit tighter,” he said, “I didn't feel comfortable with my putting, but it was – my putting was uncomfortable going into that point. It just made it worse.”

With the neck corrected, Woods also wanted to ensure his stroke was in order and had short-game coach Matt Killen working with him. Killen, who lives near Woods in Florida, works with a number of other PGA Tour players, including Justin Thomas and J.B. Holmes, and is familiar with Woods’ stroke.

“I wanted him to take a look at it, and then he mentioned a few things,” Woods said. “As I've started to feel a little bit better this week or this past week, then the putting definitely freed up.”

Although it doesn’t appear to be a permanent relationship, it’s the first time Woods has worked with a coach of any sort since parting with Chris Como in 2017.

This is Woods’ 18th start in The Players. He’s one of 23 golfers in the field this week who has played the tournament in its previous incarnation in March.

The tournament had a March date until 2007 when it was moved to May. It returns to March this year in a major shakeup of the PGA Tour’s calendar. Woods says TPC Sawgrass in March is a much different beast than the May version.

“It's just the golf course plays so much shorter in May than it does in March,” he stated. “That's probably the biggest difference. We're going to have to hit more clubs 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.”

To illustrate the distance difference, Woods noted that last year he hit a three-iron and a nine-iron to reach the 18th green on Sunday. On Tuesday, he used a three-wood followed by a three-iron.

No matter. Of Woods’ two wins here at the PGA Tour’s headquarters, one came in March, the other in May, showing he seems to have figured out the Pete Dye layout no matter what the conditions.

“It's a very simple formula here,” stated Woods. “Hit it good. It's not real complicated. The golf course is one that Pete has set up to intimidate you visually. You have to overcome that part of it.”

Woods will try to do exactly that and join Jack Nicklaus as the only three-time winners of The Players.