By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – Tiger Woods heads into this week’s Players Championship with his neck in good shape and he expects his putter to feel the same.
After withdrawing from last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational PGA Tour event with a tight neck, Woods was back in action on Tuesday playing a practice round at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida in the run up to the Players.
Woods’ neck and putter have both been a little strained since the start the season with the former world number one, recognised as one of the game’s greats with the short stick, carding six three-putts in each of his last two tournaments.
But with his neck now pain free, Woods says his putting has also come around as he chases a third Players title, regarded golf’s unofficial fifth major, and 81st career PGA Tour win.
“I feel good about both,” Woods, the only golfer to win the Players both when it was staged in March and May, told reporters after getting in nine holes. “The putting feels so much better as I feel better, it kind of goes hand-in-hand.
“We are all going to have patches where we don’t putt well and patches where we make everything.”
To make sure he was not overlooking anything, Woods has brought in putting guru Matt Killen to examine his stroke.
Woods work on the greens had not been up his usual standards before his neck issues, which he said only made things worse.
The tightness first appeared at the Genesis Open and became more of a concern at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship eventually forcing him out of the Arnold Palmer.
“It is not painful now,” said Woods, who will play Thursday’s opening round with defending champion Webb Simpson and Masters winner Patrick Reed.
“It was getting to the point where it was affecting my set-up, my back swing, it was just gradually getting worse and that is just because my lower back is fused.
“Matt has seen my stroke enough. I had him take a look at it to see what he thought of where my set-up looked like now versus all the times that I have putted well.”
Despite a stuttering start to the season, Woods said his build-up to the first major of the season, the Masters in April, was right on track.
Having had four back surgeries, Woods celebrated a return to the winner’s circle last season with a stunning victory at the Tour Championship and now has his eye on capturing what would be his first major title since the 2008 U.S. Open.
“I’ve played three tournaments so far and that’s about right and so I’m right there where I need to be,” said the 14-time major winner.
“My finishes are getting a little better each and every time I have gone out so far this year and I’ve got a little more consistent with my play.
“I think everything is headed on track towards April.”
(Editing by Ken Ferris)