Tiger Woods is 'back on track' with Masters looming despite neck injury

Rory Mc Ilroy played well in the first round of The PLAYERS 2019

Rory Mc Ilroy played well in the first round of The PLAYERS 2019

"It's not painful now, " he said. "It was just gradually getting worse".

New NBC Sports lead golf analyst Paul Azinger apparently doubles as a doctor, as he believes Tiger Woods' neck injury is worthy of concern. If it's not my lower back, it's going to be in the hip. "I was starting to get a little stiffer and tighter and unfortunately I was hitting the ball halfway decent but it wasn't hitting it hard. I've got to stay on it and have to stay as loose as I possibly can for as long as I play out here".

Golf's strongest field will tee off on a slightly different TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course and kickoff golf's championship season at THE PLAYERS Championship. He has not finished out of the top 20 in his three starts this year, though he not finished closer than eight shots of the victor. Woods has played in three tournaments so far this year, which he said is "about right". Part of that, he said, was due to the neck problems. "That's just because my lower back is fused, and so the stress has to go somewhere if I don't have movement, and so it's very important for me going forward since the surgery to keep pliable or else the stress is going to go somewhere else". "It just made it worse".

With the neck corrected, Woods also wanted to ensure his stroke was in order and had short-game coach Matt Killen working with him.

The victor of 80 PGA Tour titles is also consulting putting coach Matt Killen, who works with Justin Thomas, having performed poorly on the greens at the WGC- Mexico.

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Asked specifically about Match Play, Woods said, "If nothing flares up, then I'll play". "And I think that everything is headed on track toward April".

Woods played between five and six times before the Masters during younger and healthier times over the last 15 years. Unless we hear anything differently, Woods is expected to play when THE PLAYERS begins this Thursday. Last year, neck pain was an irritant at both the British Open and in the FedExCup Playoffs and he's well aware his future will hold both good and bad weeks. Woods says TPC Sawgrass in March is a much different beast than the May version. He wants to play and there's a big difference. "And, as my neck got a little bit tighter, I didn't feel comfortable with my putting".

To illustrate the distance difference, Woods noted that previous year he hit a three-iron and a nine-iron to reach the 18th green on Sunday. Woods could still withdraw after Tuesday's practice round if he does not feel like he is fit to play.

No matter. Of Woods' two wins here at the PGA Tour's headquarters, one came in March, the other in May, showing he seems to have figured out the Pete Dye layout no matter what the conditions.

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