Tiger Woods readies for Players tourney

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tiger Woods hit his first practice balls since the Masters on Monday and will go into the Players Championship having played just 18 holes due to knee and Achilles injuries.

Woods said Tuesday after a nine-hole practice round at the TPC Sawgrass that his injuries prevented him from hitting balls or playing until this week, but that he is competing in the Players Championship because he needs the work in preparation for next month's U.S. Open.

"The whole idea is that I peak four times a year and I'm trying to get ready for Congressional and I need some playing time," Woods said, referring to the four major championships and the U.S. Open venue. "I missed playing last week [at the Wells Fargo Championship] at a golf course I truly love playing, but I really want to get out there and play and compete.

"This is a big event, and I want to be here and play."

That means Woods will enter the PGA Tour's flagship tournament at tour headquarters with less preparation than for any tournament since the 2008 U.S. Open after playing 9 more holes on Wednesday.

It was at Torrey Pines where he won his 14th major championship after not having played since the Masters and having barely practiced due to a stress fracture in his left leg.

Woods had reconstructive surgery on his left knee after that tournament and didn't play again for nearly eight months. It was his fourth surgery on the knee, the same one he injured while attempting to hit his second shot to the 17th hole at Augusta National on April 9.

Woods said he knew right away that he had hurt himself when hitting a shot from pine straw beneath a tree. But he showed no outward signs that day, although he came back on Sunday to shoot a front-nine 31 and tie for the lead before settling for a final-round 67 and a tie for fourth, four strokes behind winner Charl Schwartzel.

"I didn't feel good on Sunday [at the Masters]. That was tough," Woods said. "I played through it, but it was one of those things. ... I was in the midst of playing and competing and had to power through it, so I did. I was able to shut it down for a little bit and was able to take care of it."

Woods immediately left the Masters for a long-scheduled trip to Asia, where he conducted clinics and did promotional activities for Nike. On April 26, he announced on his website that he would be skipping the Wells Fargo due to the knee and Achilles problems.

During the final round of the Masters, Woods appeared to play more freely than he had since beginning to work with instructor Sean Foley last August. He has not added to his total of 71 PGA Tour victories since September of 2009.

Foley walked the nine-hole practice round Woods played with Mark O'Meara and Arjun Atwal and said he had not worked with his high-profile client since the Masters until Monday.

"That's the way it goes," said Woods, who has dropped to eighth in the world, his lowest since prior to the 1997 Masters. "I have a slight injury, and you've just to go take some time off, listen to the docs and do the proper rehab."

Woods is returning at a venue in which he has experienced little success in the past decade. He finished second to Hal Sutton in 2000 and won in 2001 but has just one top-10 since and has only six rounds in the 60s. Last year, he withdrew during the final round due to a neck injury.

So far this year, Woods has played just five times, with his best finish the tie for fourth at the Masters. He also tied for 10th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

As for any future events, Woods typically plays the Memorial, which falls two weeks prior to the U.S. Open.

"We'll see how this week progresses," Woods said. "If it flares up like it did at Augusta, then it flares up ... but hopefully it doesn't."

Woods is grouped for the first two rounds with Matt Kuchar and Martin Kaymer. They tee off at 8:08 a.m. on Thursday and 1:18 p.m. on Friday.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.