- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The "minor" knee and Achilles injuries that kept Tiger Woods from playing and practicing since the Masters ended up limiting his appearance at The Players Championship to nine holes.
Woods withdrew after shooting an ugly 6-over 42 at TPC Sawgrass, where he took a triple-bogey 7 on the fourth hole and was clearly limping before shutting down his round.
"I'm having a hard time walking," Woods said after his half-round. He hit only one green in regulation and made no birdies.
It is the second straight year that Woods had to withdraw during the PGA Tour's signature event but just the fourth time in his professional career that he has withdrawn from a tournament after starting it.
"Tiger looked like he was in pain today," playing partner Matt Kuchar said after he shot an opening-round 69. "[It] looked like he was walking quite slowly, quite gingerly. ... He was just last to get to his ball every time."
In last year's Players, only his third event after taking a monthlong break to deal with personal issues, Woods withdrew seven holes into the final round with a neck issue.
This time, Woods was unable to make it to the 10th tee, and given his lack of preparation and the way he looked, it was not surprising. He winced on several tee shots.
"The knee acted up and then the Achilles followed after that and then the calf started cramping up," Woods said. "Everything started getting tight, so it's just a whole chain reaction."
Woods has had four operations on his left knee, including a reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament just a week after he won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. It was there where Woods competed after having not played since the Masters. It was later learned that he was playing with a broken bone in his left leg as well.
Woods said Thursday that he injured his left knee while attempting to hit a shot from pine straw during the third round of the Masters last month. He also injured his left Achilles that day -- not the same Achilles he hurt in 2008-09 -- but shot 67 during the final round to tie for fourth.
"It's a hard game to play if he can't walk,'' said Woods' friend, Mark O'Meara, who played practice rounds with Woods this week. "My take on it is that he's a great athlete, he's incredibly physically gifted, and he's been battling some injuries and certainly the personal problems that he's had in his life the last year and a half. All those things combined has made it diffiuclt for him to get probably on the golf course where he wants to be.''
His game appeared to be coming around with the help of instructor Sean Foley, but the latest ailment now throws Woods' immediate future into doubt.
"There's been a little limp the whole week. I didn't watch him the whole round, but I just saw him when he went down [Nos.] 8 and 9," Foley said. "And he was 20 to 40 yards behind the other guys. That's pretty much what I know."
Foley said he has not spoken to Woods post-round.
"Obviously the guy loves to play the game. That's what he does for a living," Foley said. "This is the flagship event of the PGA Tour, so I think he was going to give it a try -- give it a try and see how it went. The guy has played hurt a lot. For him to withdraw, it probably had to be bothering him."
After the Masters, Woods did not practice again until Monday. He played nine-hole practice rounds at Sawgrass on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"This morning, felt fine during warm-up and then as I played, it progressively got worse," he said. "The treatment's been good. It's been getting better. It just wasn't enough."
Woods said his doctors told him it was OK to play.
"The more rest I get, the better it would be, obviously," he said. "Obviously, it's a big event. I wanted to come back for it and play, and unfortunately I wasn't able to finish."
Woods never truly got going. He hit a poor drive on the first hole and found himself hitting an awkward chip for his third shot and made bogey. At the par-5 second, after a good drive, he left his second shot in rough near the green, then tried a flop shot that came up short. He settled for par.
It was at the short par-4 fourth where things really turned badly. He hit a poor tee shot that he said hurt his knee. Woods then chunked his second shot into the water, took a drop and, having only 30 yards to clear the hazard, hit railroad ties and saw the ball bounce back and get wet. He wedged on but was still outside of playing partners Martin Kaymer and Kuchar, who had birdie putts. Woods made his putt for a 7.
"The tee shot was [leg-related]," he said. "It grabbed me on the tee shot there but the pitch shots weren't. Those were just bad pitch shots. Those were just awful."
Said Kaymer: "Nobody really knows how much pain he was in. Of course, we hope that he gets well soon, that he gets out here again. It would have been nice to play another 27 with him. And he shot 6 over, but hopefully he can recover soon so he can play great golf again."
The 42 was Woods' worst nine-hole score at TPC Sawgrass but not his worst on tour. He had a 43 on the back nine at Quail Hollow last year and also had a 43 on the back nine at Bay Hill in 2007. In all, he's shot 43 four times during his pro career.
Woods said Tuesday that he wanted to play this week in order to prepare for next month's U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. The start of the tournament is five weeks away, and Woods typically would be expected to play in the Memorial in three weeks.
All of that is in doubt now.
"I don't know," Woods said when asked if he has returned to square one in his game. "I just finished nine holes. Give me a few days to see what the docs say, and we'll take a look at it."
Bob Harig is the golf writer for ESPN.com.