Woods (73) finishes unremarkable Players

Tiger Woods hits from the fourth tee during the final round of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, Sunday, May 13, 2012, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Tiger Woods hits from the fourth tee during the final round of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, Sunday, May 13, 2012, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For the first time since 2009, Tiger Woods completed all 72 holes at the Players Championship. He needed a flourish on his back nine Sunday just to salvage a pedestrian result.

Teeing off more than three hours before the leaders, Woods made the turn in 40 but birdied two of his last three holes to shoot 73 and tie for 40th -- matching his worst 72-hole finish of the year on Tour.

“I felt like I did it well in spurts again,” said Woods, who finished at 1-under 287. “I just need to be a little bit more consistent.”

Woods began the final round in a tie for 34th, 10 shots off the lead. Crisp ballstriking is paramount on the Players Stadium Course, but never more so than on Sunday. Seventeen of the 18 hole locations were placed within four yards of the edge of the green, and the wind gusted to 25 mph. To go low, you need to play aggressively. And to play aggressively, of course, you need to be committed to your swing.

Where is Tiger in that process? Just a day earlier, he opined that his even-par 72 in Round 3 was “probably the most solid I’ve hit the ball all year.” Woods was unable to replicate that performance in the final round. Three times on his opening nine, he released the club with only one hand as he battled a case of the pulls. He birdied two of the reachable par 5s Sunday, bringing his weekly total to seven out of 16 chances.

“I’ve just got to play the par 5s better than I did,” Woods said. “That’s something I didn’t do. I had a lot of irons into the par 5s and didn’t take care of them.”

Remember when Woods dominated the par 5s en route to his resounding victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational? Amazingly, that was seven weeks ago. In his three starts since, Woods has gone T-40 (Masters), MC (Quail Hollow), T-40 (Players) -- the first time in his career that he’s finished 40th or worse in three consecutive events.

As ordinary as Woods played this week at TPC Sawgrass, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Since 2002, he has recorded just one top-10 finish and has shot only seven sub-70 rounds in his past 35 attempts. It’s one of the least productive stops in his career. Like many players, the Pete Dye design just doesn’t suit him.

Does Tiger’s performance here diminish his chances for victory in his next event, the Memorial, which begins May 31? Of course not. Woods, at age 36, is trying to get better, trying to implement changes, trying to become comfortable with what, right now, is an uncomfortable swing. It wouldn’t surprise at all if he’s in contention at Jack’s Place.

Said Woods, “I’m starting to hit the ball up in the air again, and doing it correctly. Some of the way I used to do it, how I used to add the loft through impact on the way down, just trying to get that out of there still. I’m able to start hitting it up in the air again, and sending it with confidence.”

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