Players Championship 2013: Tiger Woods faces stern test at TPC Sawgrass

Sam Greenwood

The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass remains a mystery to Tiger Woods, who has just one top-10 finish in The Players Championship since his lone victory in 2001.

Tiger Woods is the master of his domain when it comes to Bay Hill and Torrey Pines, which he has conquered to the tune of 16 (eight on each course) of his 77 career PGA Tour victories.

TPC Sawgrass, home of the short but notoriously treacherous par-3 17th peninsula green, however, is not among the confines the 14-time major champion considers particularly cozy. In fact, Pete Dye’s diabolical design pretty much eats the lunch of Woods, who owns just one title in 15 Players Championship starts at a venue that never ceases to bewilder him.

“It’s one of those courses where they’ve got some tough lines and if you’re not playing well, you’re going to get exposed,” Woods told reporters Tuesday, ahead of this week’s tournament that has the look, feel, and field of a major.

Woods enters the competition on top of his game, with a .500 record (3 wins in six tour events) this year, and, not surprisingly, as the odds-on favorite to add only his second Players W to the one he earned way back in 2001. To do so, though, he’ll have to best one of the season’s strongest contingents of golfers, including defending champ and opening-rounds playing partner Matt Kuchar, who won the Match Play Championship and has three additional top-10 finishes in 2013.

Overcoming players like Phil Mickelson, who was oh-so-close to posting his 42nd tour win at Quail Hollow last week but also has just one win at Sawgrass, and second-ranked Rory McIlroy, who must be about due for a breakout performance despite three missed cuts in three Players attempts, are probably secondary among Woods’ worries this week. With only one top-10 outcome since his victory lap around Dye’s Stadium Course a dozen years ago, Tiger, like any golfer who’s ever navigated the 7,215-yard, par-72 layout, can’t help but look ahead to a certain 137-yard hole that can throw cold water on anyone’s dreams of TPC glory.

“Probably 17, when it’s blowing out of the north, northwest,” Woods said about the site he prefers the least among several spots at the Ponte Vedra Beach locale that frustrates and confounds him. “I've hit 5‑iron into that hole. Not a good hole to hit 5‑iron to. The flag is dancing up there, and it's cold and it's about 40 degrees out. That was one of the tougher shots I've ever faced.”

Other than that, the circuit that Dye developed to drive golfers to distraction, Woods, who’s ranked 154th and 64th on the tour in driving accuracy and greens in regulation, respectively, said the key to scoring this week would be finding fairways and putting surfaces.

"You have to drive the ball really well,” said Woods, who will make his 300th tour start on Thursday. “You miss these greens at all, you’ve got some of the weirdest, funky little shots that you’ll ever face.”

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