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His left knee and Achilles' hurting, Tiger (42) withdraws during the TPC's first round.

Times wires

PONTE VEDRA BEACH - Tiger Woods limped off the golf course and into an uncertain future.

His return at The Players Championship from what he had described as a "minor injury" lasted nine holes Thursday. Woods withdrew because of pain in his left knee and Achilles' after taking 42 shots for his worst nine-hole score on the TPC Sawgrass course.

"I'm having a hard time walking," he said.

It was Woods' toughest nine holes in his last 14 starts. He has shot 43 for nine holes on four other courses.

Nick Watney took a one-shot lead at 8-under 64. Mark O'Meara, the oldest player in the field at 54, shot 66 in his first round at TPC in eight years. The oldest player to make the cut at TPC was Julius Boros, at 55 years, 174 days in 1975.

Woods flexed his left knee after hitting tee shots. He took baby steps to climb out of a bunker. He walked with a golf club for support, lagging far behind his playing partners with a limp. His quickest steps were to catch up to Martin Kaymer on the way to the 10th tee to tell him he was done.

Before driving off in a white Mercedes, Woods ducked into a fitness trailer with a sign painted on the side that said, "Is knee pain holding you back?"

The more relevant question is where Woods goes from here.

The crisis in his personal life that led to divorce last summer no longer appears to be the biggest obstacle in regaining his golf game or pursuing Jack Nicklaus' record 18 majors.

It's his health.

Woods, 35, already has gone through four surgeries on his left knee. Now he has an Achilles' problem. He has gone 18 months since his last win, three years without adding to his 14 majors, and he has no idea when he will be fit enough to compete again.

It started on the first hole, a 3-wood that "just didn't feel good" and sailed left into the pine trees. His left foot slipped on the pine straw, similar to the shot on the 17th hole at Augusta National in the third round that caused this latest injury, and he wound up on the side of a mound short of the green, another awkward stance.

"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."

Asked if he should have walked off the course earlier, Woods replied, "Probably."

He stopped on the seventh hole of the fourth round at TPC last year with what turned out to be a minor neck injury. This time he made it only to the ninth hole of the first round.

"Tiger looked like he was in pain," said Matt Kuchar, the third in their group. "You could tell he was walking quite slowly, quite gingerly. He was last to get to his ball every time. ... Probably by the second hole, you could tell that walk wasn't normal. And I think by the third hole, started seeing some grimacing."

Kaymer, who opened with 5-under 67 as he tries to return to No. 1 in the world, was playing with Woods for only the second time. "Nobody really knows how much pain he was in," Kaymer said. "He was walking really slowly."

Woods had not played since the Masters, when he said he hurt his knee and Achilles' after hitting from the pine straw beneath Eisenhower Tree in the third round. He described it as a minor injury two weeks ago.

Off the tee, Woods looked fine. He hit his driver 40 yards by Kaymer and Kuchar on No. 9, and he was 30 yards past Kaymer on No. 5. Of the five times in seven holes that Woods hit the fairway, however, he never hit the green.

His only birdie putt came on the par-3 third, and he missed that from 15 feet.

On the next hole, he pulled his tee shot into the mounds left of the fairway, then said, "No!" when his next shot found the water. After taking a penalty drop some 30 yards short of the hazard, Woods' pitch shot to a back pin hit the bulkhead and went back into the pond. He had to make a 20-foot putt for triple bogey.

Asked if the triple bogey was related to his knee, Woods said, "The tee shot was. It grabbed me on the tee shot there. But the pitch shots weren't. Those were just bad pitch shots. Those were just awful."

Woods typically would next play the Memorial in three weeks, with the U.S. Open at Congressional - a course on which he won two years ago at his AT&T National - starting June 15.

Woods has no idea when he can return.

"I just finished nine holes," he said. "Give me a few days to see what the docs say, and we'll take a look at it."