Tiger practices, appears pain free on eve of PGA
Tiger Woods hits out of the rough during the World Golf Championships event in Akron, Ohio on August 3, 2014 - by Gregory Shamus
At the same venue where Woods claimed the 2000 PGA Championship as part of his "Tiger Slam" of four major wins in a row, the 38-year-old American drew a huge crowd with every move after his playing status had been in doubt for the past two days.
The 14-time major champion pulled out of Sunday's final round of the World Golf Championships event in Akron, Ohio, with a back injury.
Woods, who underwent back surgery on March 31 to relieve a pinched nerve, jarred his back on the second hole at Firestone Country Club and withdrew after wincing in pain following a tee shot at the ninth hole.
After going home to Florida for treatment and examination by doctors after the injury, Woods arrived Wednesday afternoon at Valhalla and showed no signs of pain or problems bending during practice swings at the driving range.
Woods is scheduled to start off the 10th tee at 8:35 Thursday morning (1235 GMT) alongside two other past PGA Championship winners, fellow American Phil Mickelson and Ireland's Padraig Harrington.
Woods missed the Masters and US Open while recovering from the surgery and played his first event since the operation in late June at the PGA event owned by his charity foundation, missing the cut at Congressional Country Club but expressing happiness at being able to play again.
Last month, Woods finished level 69th at the British Open, marking the worst 72-hole major finish of his pro career and setting the stage for his dramatic exit last week in Akron, Ohio.
Woods has struggled with various knee, leg and back injuries since winning his most recent major title at the 2008 US Open as his body breaks down under the strain of the long drives that were his hallmark for a decade of golf dominance.
- Watson will wait and see -
Playing this week is critical for Woods as he tries to qualify for the US Ryder Cup team that will face holders Europe next month at Gleneagles, Scotland.
Barring a win this week, Woods will need a captain's pick from Tom Watson and to show his health. Woods is not qualified for the upcoming US PGA season-ending playoffs and could face a long layoff ahead of the Cup even if no more back issues arise.
"It's speculation what's going to happen," Watson said. "I can't tell you what's going to happen with Tiger. And I said right from the beginning, if he's playing well and he's in good health, I'll pick him.
"Obviously he's not in great health right now and he hasn't played very well. So the question is, will I pick him? Well, I can't tell until things happen in the next three or four weeks. Honestly can't answer this."
Woods, who has slid to 10th in the rankings after being overtaken for the world number one spot in May, would be teeing off four days after back spasms that left him struggling to pick up a tee or reach his shoes, seeming to make contention a daunting task for the 38-year-old American as he chases the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus.
There is a sense of time running out on Woods, who turns 39 in December.
Since the Masters began in 1934, no golfer has won more than three majors after turning 39. Nicklaus won two majors at age 40 and his last at the 1986 Masters at age 46.
Woods has missed six majors in his career, all since his most recent major triumph six years ago. Nicklaus did not miss his sixth major until the 2001 US Open at age 61.
Woods remains three titles shy of matching the late Sam Snead's all-time PGA record of 82 career crowns.
- Tiger impact still huge -
Rivals were hoping that Woods would be healthy enough to play this week.
"He still has a huge impact," said Rickie Fowler, a runner-up at this year's US and British Opens.
"I want to see Tiger around, but I want to see him healthy and at his best, and unfortunately he's not healthy and at his best right now," Fowler said.
"I would rather see him make sure he's back to at least close to 100 percent and comfortable playing.
"But the game still does need him. He's a big draw. A lot of people still love watching him play."