- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2011

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods limped off the golf course and into an uncertain future.

His return at the Players Championship from what he had described as a “minor injury” lasted only nine holes Thursday. Woods withdrew because of pain in his left knee and Achilles, but not before taking 42 shots for his worst nine-hole score on the TPC Sawgrass course.

“I’m having a hard time walking,” he said.

Woods flexed his left knee after hitting tee shots. He took baby steps to climb out of a bunker. He walked with a golf club for support, lagging a football field behind his playing partners with a noticeable limp. His quickest steps were to catch up to Martin Kaymer on the way to the 10th tee to tell him he was done.

The question is where Woods goes from here.

The crisis in his personal life that led to divorce last summer no longer appears to be the biggest obstacle in regaining his golf game or pursuing Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 majors.

It’s his health.

Woods already has gone through four surgeries on his left knee. Now he has an Achilles problem, too. He has gone 18 months since his most recent win, three years without adding to his 14 majors, and he has no idea when he will be fit enough to compete again.

It started on the first hole, a 3-wood that “just didn’t feel good” and sailed well to the left into the pine trees. His left foot slipped on the pine straw — similar to the shot on the 17th hole at Augusta National in the third round that caused this latest injury — and he wound up on the side of a mound short of the green, another awkward stance.

“The knee acted up, and then the Achilles followed after that, and then the calf started cramping up,” Woods said. “Everything started getting tight, so it’s just a whole chain reaction.”

Asked if he should have walked off the course earlier, Woods replied, “Probably.”

He stopped on the seventh hole of the fourth round at the Players last year with what turned out to be a minor neck injury. This time he made it only to the ninth hole of the first round. From the fairway, he blasted a 5-wood so far over the green that it landed beyond a bunker, under a tree. He flubbed his chip into the bunker, blasted out to 25 feet and made another bogey.

“Tiger looked like he was in pain today,” said Matt Kuchar, the third in their group. “You could tell he was walking quite slowly, quite gingerly.”

Kaymer, who opened with a 67 as he tries to return to No. 1 in the world, was playing with Woods for only the second time.

“Nobody really knows how much pain he was in,” Kaymer said. “He was walking really slowly. He was walking behind us.”

Woods had not played since the Masters, when he said he hurt his knee and Achilles after hitting from the pine straw beneath Eisenhower Tree in the third round. Woods briefly tied for the lead the next day and finished tied for fourth.

He described it as a minor injury two weeks ago when saying that he would skip the Wells Fargo Championship last week, and his coach, Sean Foley, said he had been walking in a protective boot.

Woods did not practice after the Masters until Monday. He did not play golf until Tuesday at Sawgrass — nine holes, then another nine holes Wednesday.

The 42 was three shots higher than his previous worst nine-hole score at the TPC Sawgrass. His worst nine-hole score on the PGA Tour was a 43 on four occasions, most recently on the back nine at Quail Hollow last year when he missed the cut.



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