PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - Tiger Woods is not among the favourites for this week’s Players Championship, no longer the man to beat at the age of 42, even if he remains the one most fans wants to watch.
Woods is around a 33/1 betting outsider at the TPC Sawgrass, a course where he twice has won the PGA Tour’s flagship event — in 2001 and again in 2013.
Though he contended twice on the PGA Tour in Florida less than two months ago, subsequent mediocre performances at the U.S Masters and, last week, at the Wells Fargo Championship have diminished his stock.
But that hardly worries Woods, who, apparently pain-free after a spinal fusion last April, bounded into the media interview room on Tuesday, looking relaxed as he flashed his broad smile to a crowded room.
“Trust me, I’m fully aware of how special this is for me,” he said, recalling that 12 months ago he could barely walk without severe pain, let alone swing a golf club.
“I wouldn’t say it’s gravy, but I’m just so thankful to be able to have this opportunity again, because I didn’t know if I would ever have had (it).”
Woods is not quite ready to take on the role of a ceremonial player but will need to improve every facet of his game to have a chance against perhaps the strongest field of the year.
Australian Jason Day, coming off a win in Charlotte on Sunday, is the marginal favourite in a wide-open field, ahead of the other usual suspects such as Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson.
As rank outsider Kim Si-woo showed by winning here last year, however, that it is an unpredictable event.
Winners over the years have ranged from favourites such as Woods, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and David Duval, to the likes of outsiders such as South Korean Kim, New Zealander Craig Perks, South African Tim Clark and Canadian Stephen Ames.
“Look at the winners here and it’s all over the place,” said world number two Thomas, who tied for third two years ago.
“It really is a total package golf course. You have to be in total control of your ball, working it one way off the tee, working it another way into the green, having your distances down to where you’re putting from the right spots.”
Newly-crowned Masters champion Patrick Reed predicted low scores.
“I played the back nine today and it’s absolutely perfect,” he said.
“The course is set up for where, if you hit a quality shot, it’s going to reward you, and if you don’t you’re going to be penalised.
“I’m hitting the ball well enough, especially off the tee, that there’s no reason not to be aggressive.”
Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Ken Ferris