Tiger feels good, will compete at the PGA Championship
Tiger Woods will tee it up in the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.
After withdrawing on the ninth tee last Sunday during the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club because of back spasms, Tiger’s playing status this week was uncertain. But after rest and treatment Monday and Tuesday at his home in Florida, he is able to swing pain free and was cleared by his doctors to compete this week.
“My range of motion was good,” said Woods, who made the decision to play Tuesday afternoon. “My firing sequence was back to normal.”
On Wednesday, he played the front nine with Steve Stricker, Davis Love III and Harris English. Swing coach Sean Foley accompanied Tiger on the range, offering advice along the way. Tiger didn’t favor his back and piped his first shot with a driver down the fairway.
“I felt pretty good about how I played and the shots I hit,” he said.
Tiger had back surgery on March 31 to repair a pinched nerve, causing him to miss nearly three months of the PGA TOUR season. Doctors have told him the back spasms are not related to his original injury.
“It’s not the site of the surgery,” said Tiger, who jarred his sacrum out of joint and pinched a nerve on the second hole last Sunday, as he was hitting from a difficult stance in a fairway bunker, landing awkwardly on his right leg.
“This is something totally different. My physio put it back in, and we’ve just been treating it. Once he put it back in, the spasms went away.”
Asked if he is worried about reinjuring his sacrum this week, Woods said, “My physio is here. If it does go out, he’ll be able to fix it.”
Woods has been unable to do his normal agility exercises the last four months, which he thinks will help resolve the issue during the offseason.
“I’m still building back up, still playing,” he said. “I can’t do both at the same time. When the season is over, I can get back to my agility work, my explosiveness, my power, all that stuff, back up to where I used to be.”
Tiger and the other 155 participants were required to register at Valhalla on Tuesday by 5 p.m. ET, but agent Mark Steinberg requested an extension, as did five other players. That gave Woods until 8:35 a.m. ET on Thursday — his first-round tee time — to check in.
As it turned out, he flew to Louisville on Wednesday and registered. He is scheduled to begin first-round play on the 10th tee Thursday with Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson. Round 1 will mark only the 11th competitive round for Tiger since the surgery.
Woods and his playing partners attracted an enormous gallery Wednesday on a hot, windless day. Stricker, one of the best putters on the PGA TOUR, offered a few tips on the fifth green.
“The fans are enthusiastic,” Tiger said. “They’re loud. They’re into it.”
A four-time winner of the PGA, Tiger won at Valhalla in 2000, beating Bob May in a playoff. The course has changed considerably, with new greens, chipping areas and the addition of 400 yards.
“It’s a totally different golf course,” Woods said. “I have my [yardage] book from 2000; it’s useless.”
Tiger’s caddie, Joe LaCava, has mapped the course all week and has a good sense of how it will play. After meeting with the media Wednesday, Tiger walked the back nine and chipped and putted.
“There’s some new things we have to learn out there,” Woods said. “He’s [LaCava] got a pretty good handle on it. There’s some different options we weren’t used to in 2000.”
This marks Tiger’s fourth tournament back since the surgery. He missed the cut at the Quickens Loan National, finished 69th at The Open Championship and withdrew last week at Firestone. However, in the latter, he carded six birdies and a first-round 68 — covering with the flag with several nice approach shots — and his chipping was solid.
“The first nine, he hit some amazing shots, a couple iron shots to tap-ins,” Tiger’s Bridgestone playing partner, Martin Kaymer, told ESPN.com.
Woods’ goal for the week, aside from not jumping into bunkers, is to get himself into contention on Sunday afternoon.
“Just play well,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can control. Try to go out there and win this event. That’s all I’m focused on.”
Just before meeting with the media, Tiger found out that Stricker has been named a vice captain by U.S. captain Tom Watson for next month’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland. Woods would love to make the team.
“I think it’s great,” Tiger said. “Because Strick is not only a good guy, he’s also one of our peers.”