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McIlroy and Westwood skipped last year when they belonged to the same management company and were not PGA Tour members.

“It wasn’t one of my brightest moments,” McIlroy said. “I’m glad to be back.”

The Players Championship typically boasts the deepest and strongest field in golf, though it gets just as much notoriety from the course on which it’s played, particularly that island green on the par-3 17th that makes for great TV and becomes a smaller target depending on what’s at stake.

Missing from the field is Masters champion Bubba Watson, who has pulled out of the last two tournaments so he can bond with the baby boy he and his wife adopted in late March; Dustin Johnson, still recovering from a back injury; and 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.

Mickelson, a past champion at Sawgrass, is fresh off his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Woods is coming off only the eighth missed cut of his career at Quail Hollow. Even in the best of times, Woods struggled on this golf course. He won in 2001, was the runner-up in 2000, but never seriously contended any of the other 12 times at The Players Championship.

“I’ve done really well or I haven’t,” Woods said. “Either I’ve been right there in contention with a chance or I haven’t.”

He was speaking of The Players Championship, though he just as easily could have been talking about his season. His win at Bay Hill in March at least got him back into the top 10 in the world, though even if he were to win his next two tournaments, he could not get to No. 1.