Golf

Woods withdrawal a shock to O'Meara

Mark O'Meara
Tiger withdrew just one day after playing with Mark O’Meara
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.

Mark O'Meara played a practice round with Tiger Woods and had dinner with him on Wednesday night.

He sensed his friend was going to have a big week at The Players championship, but instead Woods withdrew Thursday morning, limping away from TPC Sawgrass after just nine holes.

“I was shocked to be honest with you,” O'Meara said after delivering his own shocker, a 6-under par 66 that left the 54-year-old tied for third.

"I turned on my phone this morning and I saw (Woods) got off to a poor start. I don't know what happened.

"I'm like, ‘Wait a minute, I just played with him yesterday morning and he played great on the back nine.’ Not great, but he was well on his way, in my opinion.

"I don't know if he was ready to win, but I thought he would play well, or decent.”

Woods withdrew after shooting a 6-over par 42 on the front nine. He was clearly limping and said he'd aggravated the knee and Achilles' tendon injuries suffered at the Masters.

The left knee has been operated on four times and represents perhaps the biggest threat to Woods' career.

O'Meara, who for many years was like a big brother to Woods, said he exchanged text messages with the former world No. 1 later on Thursday.

"He said he's just not doing so well, not feeling so well,” O'Meara said.

“I haven't talked to him, I don't know how bad it is. Obviously, it's pretty bad.”

O'Meara hinted that maybe a fifth surgery may be needed on the knee that was reconstructed in 2008.

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There was lots going on at Sawgrass on Thursday, including Tiger's WD. Get the video picture.

"He needs to get that fixed because I know how much he loves the game and I know how badly he wants to be competing, and the game needs him,” he said.

It was interesting to hear O'Meara admit that Woods plays his cards close to his chest, not just with the media, but with his friends, too.

"Even as well as I know him, sometimes it's very difficult to read him,” O'Meara said.

"I asked him the other day, I said, 'How's the leg?' and he says, 'It's fine.' I don't know if it's fine or if he's just telling me it's fine and it's really not that fine.

"I saw (Woods' coach) Sean Foley out there and I asked him, and he's like, 'You know, his leg is not good'.”

O'Meara said Woods could hit shots, but was “having a hard time walking.”

“It's a hard game to play if you can't walk,” he said.

O'Meara spoke, too, about what many around Woods have wondered for the past few years: does he still live for golf? Is he still the little boy who pinned a list of Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors on his bedroom wall and went to sleep every night dreaming of breaking that record?

"That's always been a passion of his, to win majors and to compete, and for a while that's all he's dreamed about,” O'Meara said.

“Over the last couple years, now having a family and wanting to be there for his kids, I think he still wants (to break the record), but how much only he can really determine.

“Is the fire burning as bright as it once did? Maybe not.”

It's true that Woods hasn't been as committed to golf over the past few years, even before his life imploded in the wake of a sex scandal.

He doesn't practice as much as he used to, a complaint raised by estranged coach, Hank Haney, as far back as four years ago.

O'Meara, though, expects Woods to find that passion again and bounce back.

"My take on it is that he's a great athlete, he's incredibly physically gifted and he's been battling some injuries and certainly the personal problems that he's had in his life the last year and a half. All those things combined has made it difficult for him,” he said.

“But in saying that, he seems extremely happy and extremely at ease with where he is.

“I mean, when we had dinner with him (Wednesday) night, my wife and I, he couldn't have been better. And he picked up the check, so that was awesome.”

O'Meara, who's notoriously frugal himself, was having some fun with Woods, who has a reputation for having short arms when the check arrives.

“It's not that often that he goes to the hip, so I'm saying to you, he's doing better,” he joked.

O'Meara thinks Woods needs to play tournaments to get his game back; a catch-22 situation given his reluctance to play too much and, now, being haunted by the spectre of injury.

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"He definitely needs to have more reps because you can stand on the range at home at Isleworth or you can come and hit balls or play practice rounds or whatever, but until you get out there in the thick of the battle, it's very difficult to trust anything,” he said.

"And even as great as he is, he can struggle with his confidence.

“And certainly when you start hitting some wild shots and you haven't had the success that he's accustomed to, that just adds to the pressure.”

The main reason he thought Woods would find his way back to the top of the mountain was “because he knows how to win.”

“You can't be that great a champion and all of a sudden, not.”

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