Ernie Els, of South Africa, signs autographs for fans after putting on the fifth green during a practice round at The Players championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Wednesday, May 8, 2013.(AP Photo/John Raoux)The Associated Press
Justin Rose, of England, reacts as playing partner Lee Westwood nearly holes out on the 17th hole during a practice round at The Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Wednesday, May 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)The Associated Press
Andres Romero, right, of Argentina, listens as caddie Adrian Monteros talks about a break in the 17th green during a practice round at The Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Wednesday, May 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)The Associated Press
Jeff Overton tees off on the ninth hole during a practice round at The Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Wednesday, May 8, 2013. (AP Photo/John Raoux)The Associated Press
John Merrick chips onto the 16th green during a practice round for the Players Championship golf tournament on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)The Associated Press
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Davis Love III is returning to the PGA Tour just in time to extend his streak at The Players Championship.
Love, who turned 49 last month, missed the last three months while recovering from back surgery. He's making his return this week at TPC Sawgress, playing The Players for the 28th consecutive year. His run started in 1986, when he tied for 14th. He has won the tournament twice since, in 1992 and 2003.
"It's hard to stay competitive for that long," Love said Wednesday, a day before the opening round. "If I started back over again, I tell you in 2013 there is no way I'd make 28 in a row. It's too competitive now.
"One, that means you're old. And two, it means you've stayed pretty competitive. I'm hoping that after this and the hard work I've put in, it's just going to get better for a while."
Love had a two-level disk fusion. He started putting and chipping shortly after surgery and was hitting balls eight weeks later. He's been playing full rounds for a month, still trying to regain strength in his left arm. He considered coming back a few weeks ago at the RBC Heritage, but opted to wait for The Players.
"I'm excited to be here," he said. "I'm excited to be on the golf course. I'm excited to continue that streak. Obviously, it was a big point in the schedule that I don't want to miss. I obviously wanted to play before this, but I'm glad to be back on the golf course, and Lord willing, continue this streak of feeling well for the rest of the week."
Love said his back has been bothering him for more than a decade, even recalling conversations with his doctor in 2000 about having surgery.
The pain reached a new level at Phoenix in early February.
"I was at the point in Phoenix where I was very frustrated mentally," Love said. "I knew physically I couldn't do it. ... I was just grinding away, and there was no reason to be doing it. So finally I called my doctor ... and said, 'I'm just beating my head against the wall, aren't I?' And he said, 'Yes, you are. You're going to have that surgery. You can have it now, you can have it in the summer or you can have it in the fall, but you're going to have it this year.
"So I just went ahead and I did it. I literally woke up after surgery and I knew I was fine. I felt so much better. The pain was gone. The tingling was almost gone in my fingers. And since then all it's been is trying to get my arm strength back, and that's been a longer process than I'd like, but my therapists think I'm ahead of schedule, so I'm excited."
MJD READY FOR PRO-AM: Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew might not be able to run yet, but his golf game appears to be in perfect shape.
Jones-Drew, still recovering from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot, picked up an 8-iron during a practice round at The Players Championship on Wednesday and hit a tee shot to 10 feet at the famed island green.
Jones-Drew was hanging around the 17th hole with teammate Sen'Derrick Marks when PGA Tour pros Jonathan Byrd, Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson asked the three-time Pro Bowler to take a swing.
Without any warm-up, MJD struck it clean and landed it closer than any of his professional playing partners.
"I dabble a little bit in golf here and there," Jones-Drew said afterward. "I was a little nervous. But now I'm ready for a Pro-Am."
As for his foot, Jones-Drew said it continues to get better. He expects to be running by the end of this month.
WAITING LIST: PGA Tour rookie Scott Langley was the last player in the field at The Players when the entry list came out Friday. The only thing that could bump him would be if someone won the Wells Fargo Championship who was not already eligible.
Someone like 22-year-old rookie Derek Ernst, who happens to be one of his close friends.
Ernst won at Quail Hollow in a playoff, and Langley has been at TPC Sawgrass all week wondering if someone would withdraw. So far, no good.
For Ernst, it was a case of mixed feelings.
"Like, 'Hey, I just won, this is kind of cool.' And then my buddy falls out, and I didn't want him to fall out," Ernst said. "I hope he gets in this week. I saw him walking around, so he's right there."
DIVOTS: Three-time U.S. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps walked the Stadium Course on Wednesday, posing for pictures and signing autographs while watching some practice rounds. His tour came a day after he caddied in the PGA Tour Wives Association's Golf Classic at the nearby Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass. ... Country music star Dierks Bentley performed at TPC Sawgrass on Wednesday night as part of the Tour's Military Appreciation Day. ... New Jaguars coach Gus Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell got their first look at The Players on Wednesday. Both brought their families to the course.