Injury forces out Tiger as Padraig also feels the pain
THE prospects of Tiger Woods ever again becoming a dominant force in world golf have been cast even further into doubt by his enforced withdrawal after just nine holes of The Players Championship.
And as Woods (35) awaited medical advice on the knee and Achilles tendon injuries which recurred as he struck the opening shot of yesterday's first round at Sawgrass, Padraig Harrington revealed that he too is grappling with a knee problem.
A season in which Harrington was controversially disqualified from his first event in Abu Dhabi and had his Masters ruined by a badly ricked neck, took another bad twist last week when he hurt his right knee at Quail Hollow.
His problem is not as serious as Tiger's, but it clearly had an unsettling effect on the Dubliner yesterday as he struggled from tee to green, leaning heavily on his renowned short game and putter to post a one-over-par 73.
In thrilling contrast, US Open champion Graeme McDowell left far behind his frustrations of recent months with a splendid 67, just three to shy of leader Nick Watney's spectacular 64.
McDowell opened with two birdies, holing out from just off the green at 11; landed an eagle three at 16 after hitting a wonderful fairway-metal to six feet and even burst out laughing as he chipped in from a greenside bunker at six for an unlikely birdie. Happy days are here again for McDowell after his confidence had been sapped in the spring.
Yet there's no joy for Woods, who was six-over and plumb last when he walked off the ninth.
He withdrew from Quail Hollow after spraining medial ligament in his left knee and straining his left Achilles tendon while hitting an awkward shot from under the Eisenhower Tree on Saturday at last month's Masters.
Though he had been cleared by his medics to resume this week and insisted he had felt fine during yesterday's warm-up, Woods felt pain as he hit his first shot at The Players.
"The knee acted up, then the Achilles after that and then the calf started cramping up. Everything started getting tight, so it's just a whole chain reaction. I'm having a hard time walking," Woods admitted, though he's unwilling to discuss the implications of this latest setback.
"Give me a few days to see what the docs say and then we'll take a look at it."
After undergoing surgery four times on his left knee, including a complete rebuild in 2008, Tiger cannot afford further problems with the joint, though the grapevine suggests he may be more concerned about his Achilles.
Woods has not won in 18 months, the longest barren spell of his career, and plainly has been short of confidence since his return early last year from the scandal which destroyed his marriage.
He's played just seven times in 2011 and, as he revamps his swing under new coach Sean Foley and pines for his once-infallible putting touch, Tiger doesn't have time for an injury lay-up.
"Tiger looked like he was in pain," said playing partner Matt Kuchar. "You could tell he was walking quite slowly, quite gingerly. By the second hole I knew something was wrong and by the third, I started to see some grimacing."
Woods never complained. "No, no, he never said a word. Just 'have a good back nine. Play well'," Kuchar explained.
Tiger bogeyed the first, fifth and ninth holes, but admitted his triple-bogey seven at four was due "to two bad pitch shots -- those were just awful."
Harrington had felt pain in his injured right knee as he eked out ninth place at Quail Hollow. "I twisted it walking on a slope and it hasn't recovered," he said.
The Dubliner underwent minor surgery on the same joint last May, but believed the current problem "was something that would just disappear after a day or two. Yet it's been quite sore since. I get a stabbing pain in my knee just as I take the club away, which is very awkward."
Harrington missed 10 of 14 fairways and hit just six of 18 greens in regulation, but his short game approached the miraculous as he played the first 10 holes in three-under.
Though he racked up 11 one-putt greens and sank a phenomenal series of long-range putts for birdie and par, Harrington also three-putted 12 and 18 as he shed four shots in this final eight holes.
After a couple of untidy sixes at the par-five 11th and par-four 12th, his day ended on a frustrating note with that bogey at the last.
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