The strongest field of the year at the Players Championship will be without the biggest draw in golf.
Tiger Woods isn’t playing.
Woods will miss the Players Championship for the first time when not recovering from any of his nine surgeries. His agent, Mark Steinberg at Excel Sports Management, said in a text: “Back just not ready. Not long term concern.”
Woods has played only two times this year, a tie for ninth at Torrey Pines and last place at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, where he serves as tournament host. Woods shot 76-77 on the weekend at Riviera in the Pacific chill and said his back was a little stiff.
He decided at the last minute not to play the World Golf Championships event in Mexico. He didn’t play the Honda Classic for a second consecutive year, and then he chose not play this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, where he has won a record eight times.
The Players, to be held next week at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., was seen as a likely return, except that Woods isn’t ready.
Woods later tweeted that it wasn’t an easy decision.
“I have to listen to my body and properly rest when needed,” Woods said. “My back is simply just not ready for play next week. I’m sad to miss one of the best events of the season, OUR Championship.”
Woods has been saying all year that he plans to play fewer events, mainly so the 44-year-old with five knee surgeries and four back surgeries can stay in golf longer.
He is a two-time winner on the TPC Sawgrass, most recently in 2013. Woods had the first of four back operations the following year and was at the Players only once over the next four years, a tie for 69th in 2015. He ended that season with two more back surgeries.
Next on the schedule after the Players is the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook, where Woods tied for second two years ago. It was his first appearance at the Tampa Bay event, and it attracted record crowds.
After that is the Dell Match Play in Austin, Texas, where last year Woods reached the quarterfinals. It turned out to be a pivotal week in his preparations for the Masters. That’s followed by the Valero Open in San Antonio, although Woods has never played the week before the Masters.
Tyrell Hatton, Sung Kang share lead at Bay Hill
Tyrrell Hatton lost his swing on his back nine without losing his head, a small victory. He battled through a tough test at Bay Hill in Orlando Fla., and was only surprised by what he saw when he finished.
His tidy short game was strong enough to carry him into a share of the lead with Sung Kang going into the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“I just didn’t have a clue where it was going,” Hatton said after a three-under-par 69 in a wind that came out of the opposite direction. “Just happy to get in the clubhouse with no damage done, really.”
Kang birdied four of his last seven holes for a 68.
Rory McIlroy made a mess of No. 8 and felt he made Bay Hill harder than it was — and it was plenty difficult — for a 73 that still left him within two strokes of the lead.
Matt Every thought it was awesome that his 65 in the opening round was 20 shots better than his previous round on the PGA Tour. Not so awesome was being 18 shots higher the next day, an 83 that allowed him to join the wrong list in PGA Tour annals by going from the 18-hole lead to the weekend off.
He missed the cut by one shot.
Hatton and Kang were at seven-under 137, the highest score to lead at Bay Hill in 10 years.
Danny Lee had the low round of the day, a 67, that left him one shot behind.
McIlroy, Honda Classic winner Sungjae Im (69) and Harris English (70) two strokes behind at five under. Another shot back was a group that included Patrick Reed, who had another 70 in his bid to win his second consecutive tournament.