August 08, 2014

Tiger looking ahead after missing cut

Tiger Woods knew it would be a challenge to contend in the 69th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

As it turned out, completing 36 holes was a grind.

Woods shot a pair of 3-over-par 74s and missed the cut for only the fourth time in his career in a major championship. It marked just the 12th cut he has missed as a pro and the second this year.

However, Woods’ struggles were understandable considering Friday’s round was only his 12th since undergoing back surgery for a pinched nerve on March 31.

Tiger, who withdrew on the ninth tee last Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational due to an unrelated pinched nerve and back spasms, didn’t decide to play in the PGA Championship until Tuesday. While he admitted to back tightness after the first round, he was clearly in discomfort mid-way through the front nine on Friday but soldiered on.

“That was tough,” Woods said. “I tried as hard as I could. That’s about all I got. Unfortunately, I just didn’t play well.”

Tiger said his back acted up while he was warming up before the round after hitting a 4-iron.

“It went out on me on the range,” he said. “Just had to play through it.”

Asked if he regretted playing, Tiger said, “No. It’s not where the surgery was. It’s a different area. When I fell out of that bunker last week, it’s the same feeling, the same pain and same spasms.”

Asked what his body was telling him, Woods replied, “It was telling me on the range probably not a good idea, but I’m not exactly a non-stubborn person.”

Once he started playing, Tiger said he had to improvise with a restricted back swing.

“I can’t get the club back,” he said. “Coming through is fine. I can’t get the club back. It throws everything off. I’ve got to rely on timing.”

A late front-nine starter with Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson, Tiger pulled a 3-wood off the par-4 first tee into the left rough and his second shot was blocked by trees. Woods punched into the front-right bunker, blasted six feet short of the cup and made a nice par save.

At the 504-yard, par-4 second hole, the toughest in the tournament, Tiger hit his second shot just over the back of the green and made a nice chip to close range to save par. Woods hit a beautiful 6-iron four feet below the pin at the 206-yard par-3 third, but lipped out his birdie attempt.

On the short, 372-yard, par-4 fourth, Tiger pushed his drive into the right fairway bunker. His second shot came up well short of the green before he hit a nice pitch six feet past the hole and missed his par putt.

Following a two-putt par from 23 feet at the par-4 fifth, Woods pulled his tee shot way left at the 495-yard, par-4 sixth. Faced with an awkward stance and uphill lie, Tiger tried to hit a 5-wood from 250 yards and wound up short-left in deep rough. From there, he hit a full flop shot that nearly landed in the hole, but trickled about 18 feet above the cup. Tiger ran his par putt three feet by the hole and lipped out from there, resulting in a double-bogey.

Woods seemed to flinch after hitting driver off the par-5 seventh tee way left, grimacing after the swing. In obvious pain, he punched back onto the fairway off a muddy lie, chunked his next shot short of the green and did well to get up-and-down for a bogey.

At the par-3 eighth, Tiger knocked an 8-iron 20 feet right of the hole and two-putted for a par. He then closed out the front nine at the 415-yard, par-4 ninth, hitting two nice shots to set himself up with a 14-foot birdie putt. Tiger two-putted from there, though, making the turn in 4-over 39.

The big question was whether Woods would continue playing or withdraw after the first nine holes, but he walked straight to the par-5 10th tee and elected to continue. Tiger hit a poor drive into the right rough, gouged his second shot into the left rough, came up short of the green in three, then hit a nice pitch to four feet and made the par putt.

With rain starting to fall on the already soggy course, he made another nice par-save at the 189-yard par-3 11th, and another at the 467-yard, par-4 12th. At the latter, his 6-iron approach shot found the right bunker, where he splashed his third shot 15 feet past the pin and made a slippery, downhill par putt.

At the par-4 13th, Woods hit a soft pitching wedge about six feet behind the hole and failed to capitalize. He parred the par-3 14th, then recorded his first birdie of the day and second of the tournament at the 435-yard, par-4 15th, where he knocked his approach shot 10 feet right of the hole and rolled in the putt, showing no emotion.

Tiger came up short of the green with his second shot at the 520-yard, par-4 16th. He left his uphill chip eight feet short and two-putted for a bogey.

After getting up-and-down from short of the green to save par at the 472-yard, par-4 17th, Woods flushed a driver at the 542-yard, par-5 18th hole, then hit a 3-iron from 223 yards pin-high left in a tightly mown chipping area. Tiger elected to putt and just missed his eagle bid, tapping in for a birdie to finish the back nine in 1-under 35.

 “I need to get stronger,” Tiger said after the round. “As I said the other day, I need to get my glutes strong again, my abs and my core back to where I used to have them. They are just not quite there yet. Obviously by playing, you can’t burn the candle at both ends.”

Woods, a four-time PGA champion, won at Valhalla in 2000, but missed the 2008 Ryder Cup at the Louisville, Kentucky course due to injury. He had nothing but praise for the spectators following Friday’s round.

“The fans were fantastic,” he said. “They were cheering us on and so supportive. It’s a shame that I didn’t get to play here in ’08. I couldn’t imagine the atmosphere. This is a great sporting town.”