Wednesday brought with it both humidity and surprise as Tiger Woods’ Mercedes pulled up to Louisville, Kentucky’s Valhalla Golf Club in time for the player to make the PGA Championship practice round. The arrival came just days after Woods pulled out of the Bridgestone Invitational citing a pinched nerve in his back. Though Woods assured the press that he was healthy and fit to play in the year’s fourth and final major tournament, and that his back was a nonissue, his poor performance in Thursday’s opening round left much to be desired out of the player.
This past Sunday at the Bridgestone Invitational, Woods called it quits after his shot on the ninth hole. Grabbing his back, the player said he had injured himself earlier that day on the second hole, and that the pain had become too much to play through by the ninth hole.
Woods’ withdrawal from the Bridgestone Invitational ignited speculation that the player would miss yet another major tournament as a result of yet another back injury. Just last March, Woods had microdiscectomy surgery that effectively left him out of the U.S. Open and the Masters. Since the operation, the player’s performance has yet to reach its previous caliber, which dims the prospect of a slot in the Ryder Cup.
Understandably, many were taken aback when Woods showed up for the PGA Championship practice round. Then again, it is Tiger Woods, and this kind of a headline should not be so extraordinary. High-profile maneuvers have become part of the player’s repertoire over the years.
Grouped with Phil Mickelson and Pádraig Harrington, Woods finished his round at three-over-par 74. Mickelson finished at two-under-par 69 and Harrington came out at two-over-par 73 to cap the round.
Woods began the day on the 10th hole where his first shot missed the fairway and his putt for birdie fell short less than an inch from the hole. At one-over-par on the 14th hole, Woods hit into the galley on a par three and ended the hole with a bogey. The player’s birdie of the day came on the 16th hole from off the green.
The PGA Championship is the major tournament most noted for first-time major winners and dark horse victors. One thinks of Keegan Bradley in 2011, Yang Yong-eun in 2009, Shaun Micheel in 2003 and Rich Beem in 2002. The spotlight has been on No. 1 golfer in the world, Rory McIlroy, to finish at the top of the PGA Championship. However, in light of the tournament’s knack for elevating the unexpected, it becomes increasingly hard to ignore the likes of Lee Westwood. The Englishman finished the first round hitting a 65 and six-under-par.
Woods evaluated his performance today, stating, “It wasn’t very good.” Despite the stiff back, Woods said that he is used to dealing with the issue, and remarked, “I have the same opportunity as everybody else and just didn’t get it done.” In order to pick up the slack after a poor showing the first day, Woods noted that he needs to finish under par the next two rounds, weather permitting.
Though Woods claimed that his back was not giving him problems, the player’s performance was subpar from the outset of the first round. It was evident that Woods was off his game, and as David Feherty pointed out, “You [could] see the frustration in his demeanor.”
After hitting only eight of 14 fairways, Tiger Woods finished his first round of the PGA Championship with a stiff back and three-over-par 74. The player’s back woes, and effectively, lack of consistent play throughout the past year and a half left Woods nine behind tournament leaders Lee Westwood and Kevin Chappel.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson