Categorically, Tiger Woods has been nothing to write home about at the Players Championship. The current World No. 1 golfer has not won the event since 2001, and TPC Sawgrass has not been kind to him since 2009, when he finished eighth.
Luckily for Woods, he's in a position to carry over his 2013 PGA Tour success to a tournament that has not been kind to him in the past.
After a disappointing finish at the Abu Dhabi HBC Championship, Woods bounced back strong, winning three solo tournaments and the Tavistock Cup before finishing tied for fourth at the Masters with Marc Leishman and behind Jason Day, Angel Cabrera and winner Adam Scott.
Here's a look at how Woods has fared so far this year:
|Tiger Woods' 2013 Tournaments|
|Abu Dhabi HBC Championship||CUT|
|Farmers Insurance Open||1|
|WGC-Accenture Match Play Open||T-33|
|Arnold Palmer Invitational||1|
|Tavistock Cup (Team Albany, +7)||1|
|The Masters Tournament||T-4|
The Players Championship (May 9-12 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.) will be his first tournament since his top-five finish at Augusta National nearly a month ago.
He'll be paired with Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker for the first two rounds of one of the PGA's most noticeable events (h/t PGATour.com), and will have a chance to both increase his money lead on the Tour while getting ready for the final three majors—the Open Championship, U.S. Open and PGA Championship—later this year.
For whatever reason Tiger has not been able to sustain success at TPC Sawgrass over the years. His tournament victory in 2001 was one of the most impressive of his early-career non-major victories, categorized by a putt that lives on in golfing lore.
While the 2001 tournament was a highlight of Woods' career, his recent trips to Florida for the Players Championship have not been as charming.
Woods finished a disappointing tied for 40th (74-68-72-73) in 2012, struggling to find the green in regulation or even make a dent on the green with his putter. He missed the 2008, 2010 and 2011 tournaments due to injury, but even prior to that he did not fare well at Sawgrass—even when on his game.
Tiger has played the Players Championship 15 times, and only taken home a trophy and large check in one (2001) of those events. Compared to his other least-favorite courses, Sawgrass is only bested by the Northern Trust Open (11 times) in terms of career starts without a victory (Tiger has never had one there, h/t Justin Ray of ESPN).
Lucky for Tiger, the parts of his game that he has struggled with at Sawgrass in the past are coming together for another run in 2013.
As noted by Ray in the earlier piece, prior to the 2012 tournament, Tiger has only been above 62.5 percent in greens in regulation once—2006, when he finished tied for 22nd at one-over.
Tiger hasn't been particularly efficient in that department so far this year (66.7 percent, good for T-64 on Tour), but he did hover above the course average at Augusta (65.3 percent, compared to 60.2 course average) and has a top-five finish to his credit at that event.
Where he's really been impressive is on the green—crucial to success at Sawgrass each year.
Woods leads the Tour in Strokes Gained Putting per round at a remarkable 1.476 per, a number that puts him nearly a half stroke ahead of the next closest golfer. Despite some late-round struggles at Augusta, Woods has been the best putter on the Tour so far this season, and that will be key if his driver and irons are only hovering in the 65 percent range when it comes to greens in regulation.
Maybe the most important thing we've seen about Tiger so far this year that could pay dividends with a TPC Sawgrass run is his confidence.
After the horrific incident at No. 15 in the second round at the Masters, followed by the subsequent two-stroke penalty for an illegal drop, it wouldn't have been hard to count Woods out for the final two rounds.
But he didn't quit.
Woods, down four strokes if you count the birdie chance-turned-hazard at No. 15 and two additional strokes, managed to play consistent, bogey-free golf over the final two rounds and was a birdie or two on the back nine on Sunday away from making things interesting at the final hole.
He couldn't quite come all the way back, but the foundation has been laid for Woods to continue his impressive display of consistency, confidence and overall aura over the next few months.
It might or might not net him a win at TPC Sawgrass. The experts at ESPN don't seem to think it will, since he's been bad at this tournament in the past and hasn't played a tournament in nearly a month.
But Woods is peaking at the right time right now, and is a few good bounces away from regaining his top form. He's already the World No. 1 yet again, and that likely won't change for quite some time.
Maybe he'll add win No. 2 at the Players Championship on Sunday, to prove he's really back in tip-top shape and ready to contend at the final three majors of the 2013 season.
After his start to the year, it would not be a surprise at all.
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