LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With the crowd packed eight deep around the ninth hole, Tiger Woods nonchalantly rolled in an 8-foot birdie putt, then turned his attention to scouting the rest of the green.
That Woods was even at Valhalla on Wednesday was surprising enough.
That he said that he was “pain-free” merely added to what has already been a surreal PGA Championship.
After three days of endless speculation, Woods arrived at 1:16 p.m. ET Wednesday, changed his shoes in the parking lot – where a large media contingent had gathered – and made his way to the range, where he beat balls, full speed, for a half-hour.
Woods played Valhalla’s front nine, showing no ill effects of the back injury that caused him to withdraw Sunday after eight holes of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. After stopping for an impromptu interview, he set off with caddie Joe LaCava to walk the back nine, hitting only a few chips and putts on a course he hadn’t seen since his memorable PGA win back in 2000.
“I feel good,” Woods said.
The injury that knocked him out at Firestone? Woods says his sacrum – a bone located at the bottom of the spine – shifted out of position when he jumped into a fairway bunker on the second hole. He struggled for six more holes, hit his tee shot on No. 9 and called for a cart, his day done. Woods hobbled off, braced himself on the back of his courtesy car, then sat in the passenger seat as LaCava drove off into what seemed like an uncertain future.
Immediately, there was concern that Woods had reinjured his surgically repaired back. He underwent a microdiscectomy March 31, and the Bridgestone was only his third start since going under the knife. Woods said Wednesday, however, that the discomfort he experienced in Akron was a “different pain” than what he felt in the months leading up to the initial surgery.
When Woods landed in the bunker, he said the bone was jarred loose – thus the spasms and intense pain. His physio “put it back in, and we’ve just been treating it,” he said.
“Once the bone is put back in, it’s all good,” Woods added. “The inflammation has been down; I’ve had range of motion. As you saw out there, I got my speed, my power, and I just need to obviously keep moving.”
Woods’ physiotherapist is on-site this week, and he said that he is taking only anti-inflammatories. There was no need for pain medication. “I’m not in any pain,” he said. That’s the good part.”
Despite constant chatter about whether he would tee it up, Woods said that he determined Tuesday afternoon that he would fly from his home in South Florida here to Louisville. Prior to Wednesday’s practice round, the only balls he had hit since Sunday were in a bay at his home, and he videotaped slow-motion swings to make sure “that my swing was where I wanted it.”
Some have suggested that Woods is taking an unnecessary risk by playing this week, just four months removed from surgery and only a week from a scary setback.
When asked if there was any chance for reinjury this week, he said, “Yeah, of course there is. Just don’t jump in the bunkers.”