PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The last time Tiger Woods stepped onto the fairways, he sent Augusta National into a frenzy.
A front-nine 31 suddenly thrust him into the middle of a jumbled Masters Sunday leaderboard. Though he wound up tying for fourth, it was a vintage display as good as any nine holes during his 14 major wins.
Little did anyone know he was playing hurt. Or that the knee and Achilles woes would carry straight into The Players Championship -- as he disclosed Tuesday when asked how much he'd played since the injury.
"Today," he said. Nine holes, to be specific.
OK, Tiger. So when did you start hitting balls again on the range?
"Ummm, yesterday?" he pondered.
So much for any sort of momentum carrying over.
"That's the way it goes," he said. "I have a slight injury, and you've just got to take some time off listen to the docs and do the proper rehab."
Woods sprained his left medial collateral ligament during the third round at Augusta, hitting an awkward shot from pine straw at No.17. Had this week been a standard PGA Tour event, chances are good that he wouldn't have made the trip.
He already sat out last week's Wells Fargo Championship, which has become one of his favorite stops in recent years.
TPC Sawgrass, on the other hand, hasn't been kind to him in recent visits. He has just one top-10 finish in his past eight Players appearances, though that came two years ago when he placed eighth.
Last year, he departed 12 holes early with searing neck pain. It was his first withdrawal from a tournament since 2006.
"I need some playing time," Woods said, noting the U.S. Open's approach in five weeks. "I really want to get out there and play and compete. This is a big event, and I want to be here and play."
This week marks a full 18 months since he last won a tournament, coming at the 2009 Australian Masters. Though it's the longest dry spell of his career, he said Tuesday it isn't the most frustrating.
That would be from the summer of 1997 just a couple of months after his breakthrough Masters victory until spring 1999. That's when he embarked on radical swing changes with Butch Harmon, limiting him to two wins in a stretch of 17 months.
Within a year of breaking out, though, Woods blitzed the field at the 2000 U.S. Open and was on his way to the Tiger Slam.
"I'd never gone through a stretch like that, ever," he said. "I made changes with Butch for the very first time back in '95, but I still won junior events, amateur events. ... If I had never gone through '97 through '99, then this period would have been just brutal."
Reigning U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, grouped with Woods in early rounds at both Doral and the Masters, admired the way Woods hasn't let himself get overly annoyed along the comeback road.
"We all have our frustrating outbursts from time to time," McDowell said, "but I think he's been very patient considering what I'm sure he expects of himself."
Those expectations, by the way, never change. "Same as always -- try to win the event," Woods said.
First, though, he needs his body to cooperate.