PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – This is not the same Tiger Woods.
Despite winning at Bay Hill and finishing fourth last week, Woods is missing his power – whether it’s off the tee with a driver or from the fairway with irons that are sometimes two more clubs than what he used before surgery last June to rebuild his left knee.
The power shortage was never more evident than in the final round of the Masters, playing with Phil Mickelson, when Woods usually was the first to hit from the fairway. Even his rival couldn’t help but notice.
“I kept having to wait for him to hit,” Mickelson jokingly said Tuesday.
More evidence came last week at Quail Hollow.
By measuring drives on the 56 holes that were not par 3s, Mickelson’s average tee shot was nearly 14 yards longer than Woods’.
“I’ve been away from the game for a long time,” Woods said Tuesday, referring to his eight-month layoff after the U.S. Open. “And it’s going to take a little bit of time before my body gets back to where I can hit the ball the same distances. I don’t hit the ball the same distance with my irons or my driver.”
Distance is not an issue at The Players Championship, which begins here Thursday and where the TPC Sawgrass is only 7,215 yards. Like most property in Florida, it’s all about location.
Even so, Woods bristled at the suggestion from NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller that he would be better off using a 3-wood to navigate the Stadium Course instead of a driver.
“We’ve got par 5s out here. You’ve got to be able to use it,” Woods said. “If Johnny says you can’t hit drivers on 9 and 11, you’re giving up two opportunities to get close to the green.”
The Players Championship will be the fourth straight tournament that Mickelson has a chance to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world ranking.
Lefty would have to win and have Woods finish worse than fourth place alone for that to happen.
Is change imminent? Geoff Ogilvy isn’t so sure.
“Every time that there’s been this talk about, ‘He’s vulnerable,’ and ‘He’s not where he was,’ he goes and wins eight of the next 12 tournaments,” Ogilvy said. “So I don’t think anyone out here is concerned that Tiger is not going to be Tiger anymore.”
The Players Championship
Site: Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Course: TPC Sawgrass, Players Stadium Course (7,215 yards, par 72)
Purse: TBA ($9.5 million in 2008). Winner’s share: TBA ($1.71 million in 2008).
TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) and NBC (Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.)
Last year: Sergio Garcia won his seventh PGA Tour title, making a clutch par putt to force a playoff and hitting the island green 17th on the first extra hole to beat Paul Goydos.
Last week: Sean O’Hair won the Quail Hollow Championship for his third PGA Tour victory. Tiger Woods was fourth, two strokes back.
Notes: Woods won the 2001 tournament, his last top-10 finish at TPC Sawgrass. . . Twenty-four of the top 25 players in the world ranking are in the field, with only No. 16 Lee Westwood missing.
Michelob Ultra Open
Site: Williamsburg, Va.
Course: Kingsmill Resort & Spa, River Course (6,315 yards, par 71)
Purse: $2.2 million. Winner’s share: $330,000
TV: ESPN2 (Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; Sunday, noon-2 p.m).
Last year: Ex-UA Wildcat Annika Sorenstam won her 72nd and last LPGA Tour title. She retired at the end of the season.
Last event: Ex-Wildcat Lorena Ochoa won the Corona Championship in her native Mexico for the second straight year.
Notes: The top-ranked Ochoa is in the field along with No. 2 Yani Tseng, No. 3 Jiyai Shin, No. 5 Pettersen, Michelle Wie and Kraft Nabisco winner Brittany Lincicome.
PGA EUROPEAN TOUR
Site: Turin, Italy
Course: Royal Park I Roveri (7,222 yards, par 71)
Purse: $1.74 million. Winner’s share: $290,155.
TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 6:30-8 a.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 6:30-9:30 a.m.)
Last year: South Africa’s Hennie Otto won his first European title.
Last week: Thomas Levet won the Spanish Open in becoming the first Frenchman to win five European tour titles.
Notes: John Daly is in the field along with Otto, Levet, Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie.