Tiger Woods: Sleepless at Sawgrass
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

It’s rare — almost even unheard of — that Tiger Woods would offer some emotional insight from his personal life, but that’s what he did on Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass, the site of this week’s Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event. A fatigued Woods admitted that the strain from his recent breakup with Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, along with the anniversary of his father’s death (May 3), has resulted in sleepless nights.

“Obviously it does affect me,” said Woods. “It is tough. There’s no doubt. I’m not going to lie about that. It is tough. And on top of that, this time of year is really, really hard on me. This three-day window is really hard. I haven’t slept. It’s been — these three days, May 3rd and through the 5th, today, is just brutal on me, and then with obviously what happened on Sunday, it just adds to it.”

Woods and Vonn both posted separate (yet similar) statements Sunday on social media to announce the end of their three-year relationship. Living apart and leading separate lives to compete in their respective sports put too much stress on their relationship. Another aspect of the difficulty is likely that Vonn always appeared to be very close with Tiger’s kids (and I imagine this breakup must be really tough on them, as well).

Woods, however, will try his best to put his personal issues aside when it comes to the first round on Thursday.

“That’s kind of always how it’s been,” he said. “I’ve always had to deal with circumstances on both, deal with stuff outside the ropes, and once you’re inside the ropes it’s time to tee it up and time to play. You go out there, and for me I focus, I get into my little world, my little zone and do the best I possibly can for that — well, it used to be four hours. Now it’s five-hour rounds, a five-hour time period, grind it out and win golf tournaments because at the end, to me that’s what I want to do at that particular week is win a tournament.”

Despite his off-course distractions, Woods hopes to build from the momentum from his performance at the Masters last month. While he finished T17, he was T5 heading into the final round — which was impressive progress considering his previous two starts, a missed cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and withdrawal after 11 holes at the Farmers Insurance Open, not to mention his self-imposed two-month leave of absence from competitive golf.

“I think the best thing is to take what I was at Phoenix and Torrey, to go from there to fifth place going into the last day on Sunday, to go with all the problems I had many my short game, all the problems I had with my swing, to put all that and get it good enough to where I was able to give myself a chance,” said Woods, who won The Players two years ago. “If I would have played a good front nine I would have had a chance going into the back nine. But to go from where I was to being in contention like that, that was a big step. Unfortunately I didn’t make the putts on Sunday early, and I also missed a few out there during the first three days that certainly would have helped.”

Woods returns to competition this week with all the buzz around Rory McIlroy, who is fresh off his win on Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship, and Jordan Spieth, who captured his maiden major victory at the Masters. McIlroy and Spieth are ranked nos. 1 and 2 in the world, respectively. Meanwhile, Woods has plummeted all the way down to no. 125 in the rankings. He is fighting an uphill battle, along with swing changes, but he doesn’t think his game is far off from where it was in 2013 when he recorded five wins that season.

“It’s certainly coming,” said Woods when asked about progress with his comeback. “It’s coming along. I’ve made some huge, huge strides since what I was at Torrey and what I was at Phoenix, huge. As I said, to go from that to what I was at Augusta, I worked my ass off to get to that point. I really did. I worked hard.

“To change all that and then go into a major championship basically untested and to do what I did, I thought was pretty good for three days and then obviously Sunday didn’t pan out the way I wanted it. Just keep building on that, keep chipping away at it, keep getting progressively a little bit better. I’m on the right road. I’ve made all the big changes, now it’s just incremental changes, incremental implementation and keep building. Eventually it’ll click in and I’ll have a little run here, and some runs are — what, two years ago it was five wins. I can get on runs like that.”

Meanwhile, he offered a more detailed explanation on his injury that he endured at the Masters when he hurt his wrist after hitting a tree root on the ninth hole during the final round.

“It was just on the front of the wrist, like the base of the hand, and it was just a joint that kind of slipped out and I put it back in, but it was more the swelling, that we had to get rid of the swelling, so it’s a lot of ultrasound, a lot of icing, anti-inflams, get it all out of there, and then we could start progressing and building it up,” said Woods.

He added that his wrist is “fine” and he took a week off from lifting it or putting it under any strain following the incident. He also explained the million-dollar question about how he managed to put the joint back into place.

“I don’t know how,” said Woods. “It was one of those things where I had it like that and I pushed down on it — it’s just like anything, you crack your back or your neck and it’s relief. Before it was like, man, it’s stuck. That’s what my wrist felt like, it was stuff, and the wrist wasn’t moving, and I could feel it getting tighter and tighter and tighter, so it’s like a self-adjustment on your spine. I just did it on my wrist.”

Fair enough. That actually makes sense. I do that all the time with my neck and back.

Woods played an early nine-hole practice round with Jason Day, spoke with the media and then proceeded back to the range — he still has a ways to go and more work to do as he attempts yet another comeback. Hopefully he’ll be able to catch some shuteye before Thursday, too.