PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla . -- Mark O'Meara and his new bride had dinner with old pal Tiger Woods at an upscale steakhouse on Wednesday night.
O'Meara, a mentor to Woods for years in the latter's early days as a professional, sensed that his former Orlando neighbor was in a good place emotionally, after many months of well-chronicled turmoil. As a for-instance, he said Woods even picked up the check.
"It's not often that he goes to the hip," O'Meara cracked.
A day later, he took a knee.
It was a decidedly disjointed first day at the Players Championship for the longtime buddies -- O'Meara shot a 6-under 66 and claimed a share of third place at age 54, while Woods headed home with yet another chronic injury to his leg at age 35.
It felt like one of those sci-fi, trading-places scenarios: O'Meara, who hasn't played regularly on the PGA Tour for years, was the guy in the interview room talking about his stellar round, while Woods was home licking his latest wounds. O'Meara, who now lives in Houston, played practice rounds at TPC Sawgrass with Woods on Tuesday and Wednesday and was as stunned as anybody else when he learned before he teed off that Woods had withdrawn after nine sloppy holes.
"I'm as shocked and disappointed for my friend as anyone else," he said. "I know he's a fighter. His injury is probably a lot worse than what we thought it was."
Not that O'Meara, a former confident who lived a half-dozen houses down the same street, really knows, either.
After a one-month layoff, Woods re-injured his ailing left knee on his opening tee shot, he said, and limped his way to a front-nine 42, then withdrew and headed home, his medical and professional future very much in doubt. O'Meara said Woods conveyed few signs of physical discomfort when they practiced this week, and when he asked the former world No. 1 how he was feeling, Woods gave him every assurance that his legs were fine.
"I haven't talked to him," O'Meara said after his afternoon round. "I don't know how bad it is. Obviously, it's pretty bad. But he needs to get that fixed, because you know, I know how much he loves the game, and I know how badly he wants to be competing, and the game needs him. I mean, he's great for this game."
O'Meara said that like all but a handful of folks, Woods isn't a fount of full disclosure with him, either, and he has to read between the lines like the rest of us.
"Sometimes, Tiger, even as well as I know him, sometimes it's very difficult to read him," he said. "I asked him the other day, 'How's the leg,' and he says, 'It's fine.' I don't know if it's fine or if he's just telling me it's fine and it's really not that fine.
"I saw [swing coach] Sean Foley out there, and I asked him, and he's like, 'You know, his leg is not good.' I mean, he can hit balls, but he's having a hard time walking. It's a hard game to play if he can't walk."
Woods is in an increasingly tough spot. He has completed 16 stroke-play rounds in the States this year, and needs to log more rounds to get battle-ready for upcoming majors. But that means subjecting the ailing knee to more stress and strain than it can handle at the moment -- if not beyond.
"He definitely needs to have more reps because you can stand on the range at home at Isleworth or you can come and hit balls or play practice rounds or whatever, but until you get out there in the thick of the battle, it's very difficult to trust anything," O'Meara said. "Even as great as he is, he can struggle with his confidence, and certainly when you start hitting some wild shots and you haven't had the success that he's accustomed to, that just adds to the pressure.
"If the limitations that Tiger is facing with his injuries are holding him back, then he needs to get those totally fixed and get back, and then he needs to come back and just take little steps to get back, because he knows how to win."
Given that his recent hiatus didn't solve his knee and Achilles issues, that increasingly sounds like it could take a not-so-good, long, while. O'Meara said he doesn't sense any anxiety or urgency from Woods about the biological meter running in his bid to supplant Jack Nicklaus as king of the majors. But he is also uncertain as to how much Woods still wants to break those marks.
"I think that's always been a passion of his, to win majors and to compete, and for a while that's all he's dreamed about," O'Meara said. "But I think over the last couple years, now having a family and wanting to be there for his kids, I think he still wants that, but how much only he can really determine.
"Is the fire burning as bright as it once did? Maybe not. But that's to be expected when you look at the intense pressure that this kid has lived under for the last 20 years of his life."
Woods is no kid, but you get the gist.
"Any athlete that's under the scrutiny like he's been under, there's a little price you have to pay, and so it slowly erodes," O'Meara said. "No one can be inside his brain or his body and figure out where he's at, but he needs to just get around his friends, keep practicing, get healthy, and then I think he'll be back where he wants to be."
After three injury-ravaged seasons and yet another debilitating setback, it anybody still holding their breath?