This time, Johnny Miller came to Tiger Woods’ defense.
At least he tried.
Miller, the two-time major champion and NBC Sports analyst who has been critical of Woods over the years, said on a conference call Wednesday that he wouldn’t rule Woods out at The Players Championship because of his iron play.
His comments followed more blistering remarks from Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
”I’m going to take the positive spin here,” Miller said. ”I really believe that if he has a good first round and plays a little bit like he did at the British Open and sort of deals down and hits a long of stingers and just gets the ball in play … he hasn’t lost his iron game. Nobody gives him that credit. He still is a good iron player. It’s just that other things aren’t working out quite as well.”
Woods has not finished better than eighth at the TPC Sawgrass since winning here 10 years ago.
”The bottom line is that he could be a factor,” Miller said. ”Of all the places … this is the unlikely one, but this course is unpredictable, so you never know.”
Chamblee said there was a ”really good chance” Woods will be gone before Sunday. Woods is playing for the first time since the Masters, skipping last week because of a minor injury to his left knee and Achilles’.
”It’s very likely that he’s going to re-injure himself playing this course and maybe just hobble out here,” Chamblee said. ”It’s kind of sad. We watched Tiger age so rapidly before our eyes and maybe right before our eyes we’ll watch Tiger Woods play where he’s literally shuffling off the course.”
CLARK TO PLAY: Defending champion Tim Clark noticed enough of an improvement in his left elbow to start hitting balls over the weekend, and he plans to compete in The Players Championship.
Clark was runner-up at the Sony Open in January, but upon returning home, noticed a problem in his elbow. The only tournament he has played since then was the Masters, where he missed the cut.
”I’m just really excited to be here,” Clark said. ”I feel like I’m going to be able to play, which two weeks ago I wasn’t sure if that would be the case. So just really happy to be able to play.”
Clark estimated his strength at no more than 80 percent, still a big improvement from recent weeks. He still feels a twinge in the elbow, although he feels good enough to play.
Exactly what caused the injury remains a mystery.
”I don’t think we’re ever going to pinpoint what happened,” he said. ”Looking back at the tournament at Sony, I really didn’t play very well, particularly off the tee. I was hitting low, duck hooks off the tee, and I just couldn’t figure it out. I think something was already going on, although I didn’t feel the pain.”
CADDIE CONTEST: Anthony Knight won the ”Closest to the Hole” contest among caddies Wednesday on the 17th hole.
Knight, who works for Aaron Baddeley, hit a 9-iron from 130 yards to just inside 10 feet.
Their were plenty of laughs, a little pressure, balls that went everywhere and a day filled with entertainment. That included Steve Williams, the caddie for Tiger Woods.
Williams took a 7-iron and hit a towering draw, as his boss sat on a bench and said, ”Bite! Bite! Bite!”
It did, landing on the back of the green, then spinning viciously back down the slope and off the front of the green into the water. Williams, in mock anger, tossed the club some 20 yards off the tee, a few yards from the edge of the water.
”That almost went in the water,” Woods said. Then after a pause, he added with a laugh, ”Wouldn’t be the first time.”
That reference was to the 2006 Ryder Cup, when Williams stooped to dip a towel in the water at The K Club, lost his balance and saw a 9-iron fall into the pond. Woods won his match without it.
WOODLAND’S WEAPON: Gary Woodland is among those at The Players Championship for the first time, and it didn’t take him long to realize his awesome length isn’t a big advantage.
He plans to hit driver on only three holes.
Even so, the Innisbrook winner made an equipment change he thinks will help. Woodland had Titleist make him a strong 3-wood, which he plans to use on most other tees. This one has a 12.5-degree loft, compared with the 15-degree loft on his regular 3-wood.
The difference is about 20 yards. Woodland said the range is 280 yards up to 300 yards.
It’s a big week for Woodland, who is No. 48 in the world and No. 8 on the PGA Tour money list. He needs to be in the top 50 in the world ranking or the top 10 in PGA Tour money after the Colonial next week to be exempt for the U.S. Open.
FEAR THE BEARD: Lucas Glover began growing a beard in the offseason with too much time on his hands, and it has become quite a topic. Earlier this year, Justin Rose took a picture of him and posted it on Twitter, adding, ”Winning the U.S. Open. So easy even a caveman can do it.”
Glover brought even more attention to it by winning the Wells Fargo Championship last week, his first title since the 2009 U.S. Open.
He says he has received positive comments in person, not so much from his friends. How long it will stay remains to be seen. Despite stifling temperatures this week, Glover says it hasn’t been too itchy.
And he doesn’t need his friends telling him how it looks.
”I get scared in the mirror every morning,” he said. ”That’s enough.”
PECKING ORDER: Lee Westwood, the No. 1 player in the world who is not at the TPC Sawgrass this week, once referred to The Players Championship as about the eighth-most important event in golf, behind the majors and World Golf Championships.
It’s understandable, as Westwood is not a PGA Tour member.
Geoff Ogilvy believes that would be the case for several international players who don’t belong to the PGA Tour, although he thinks it would be hard to find a tournament that ranks higher than The Players at No. 5 (behind four majors).
If there were, Ogilvy would pick the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
”Akron is the only tournament in the world that maybe has an argument of being more historic and more important than this one,” he said. ”Everybody won it who’s supposed to win it. And it was a world championship before the World Golf Championships.”
FINAL WORD: ”Nobody owns this course.” — NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller.