For Woods, still some work to do this year

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Woods only played nine holes of his pro-am Wednesday at Liberty National, the course along the Hudson River across from the Statue of Liberty. He experienced stiffness in his neck and back from what he attributed to a soft bed in his hotel, and Woods decided only to chip and putt on the back nine as a precaution.

It was the latest nagging injury this year _ a tweaked back during the final round of the PGA Championship, an elbow injury in the summer that caused him to miss two tournaments _ though Woods was not concerned and said he was fine during his week off at home in Florida.

He is facing one of the toughest fields in the year featuring the top 125 players on the PGA Tour, all of whom are in form, some of whom are desperate to go as far as they can in these lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs. Only the top 100 advance next week to the Deutsche Bank Championship.

McIlroy has an easier time defining his season to date. It hasn’t been very good. He jokes with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald that he effectively has taken six months off, and now it’s time to get to work.

The good news for the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland is that golf is starting to feel more like play than work again.

He was swinging free during his pro-am, finally comfortable with his driver and launching them high and relatively straight. McIlroy feels like he turned the corner at Firestone a few weeks ago, and he rallied at Oak Hill to at least flirt with contention for the first time in a major.

A year ago, McIlroy won consecutive playoff events, tied for 10th at the Tour Championship and Brandt Snedeker walked off with the FedEx Cup and the $10 million prize.

“Maybe it will be the other way around,” McIlroy said. “That’s the beauty of it. You look at basketball, baseball, football. Teams squeeze in and make a great playoff run and win. I’m in that position where I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

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