Tiger Woods insisted on Wednesday he was pain free and targeting a victory in the US PGA Championship, despite his severely disrupted preparations.
Woods’ participation was in serious doubt after he withdrew from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational during Sunday’s final round, the former world number one in severe pain from his back after hitting his tee shot on the ninth hole.
The 38-year-old, who underwent back surgery on March 31, only arrived at Valhalla at 1:15pm local time on Wednesday and after warming up on the range, played the front nine alongside Steve Stricker, Davis Love and Harris English before speaking to the media.
Woods revealed that the sacrum bone in his back and been dislodged when he played his second shot on the second hole on Sunday - he had to jump back into a fairway bunker - but that his physio had “popped the bone back in.”
“My physio is here so if it goes out he is able to fix it,” he added. “It was a different pain, I knew it was not the site of the surgery. This is something totally different.
“I still need to build up strength and it’s going to take more time. The treatment has been fantastic, once the bone was put back in the spasms went away and from there I started to get some range of motion.”
Woods said he would be taking anti-inflammatories this week but “pain meds no, because I’m not in any.”
The 14-time major winner won the US PGA the last time it was staged here in 2000, but did not play in the Ryder Cup in 2008 and the course has since undergone extensive renovation led by designer Jack Nicklaus.
“I had my (yardage) book from 2000 but it’s useless. Joey (his caddie Joe LaCava) has been here and got a pretty good handle on it,” added Woods, who opted to just chip and putt on the back nine. “I feel pretty good about how I played. I need to get more of a feel how this course is playing.”
As Woods had warmed up on the range, his good friend Stricker was announced as Tom Watson’s third and final vice-captain for the Ryder Cup, joining Andy North and Ray Floyd.
Watson has previously said he would pick Woods for the team if he was healthy and playing well, but admitted Sunday’s withdrawal had moved the goalposts.
“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen with Tiger,” Watson said. “I don’t know his physical condition right now. 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.
“I am encouraged (that he showed up at Valhalla). He said to me he really wants to make the team in the worst way. This Ryder Cup is a big thing and these players really want to make the team and bring that cup back to the United States. After what happened at Medinah (Europe winning from 10-6 down), I’d be the same way. I’d want to be getting on the team and do what you have to do to get that cup back.”
Woods is scheduled to tee off at 8:35am local time on Thursday alongside Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington and was certain he would not withdraw and miss three of the year’s four majors for the first time in his career.
Knee surgery in 2008 to replace his anterior cruciate ligament - just after his last major victory in the US Open at Torrey Pines - forced him to miss the Open and US PGA Championship. In 2011 he failed to tee it up at the US Open and the Open because of an Achilles complaint.
Woods missed the cut in his first event back at the end of June and then suffered his worst ever 72-hole finish in a major championship as a professional, ending up 69th in the Open at Royal Liverpool despite an opening 69.
He had previously spoken about being “pain-free” for the first time in two years, but told his pre-tournament press conference in Akron that other people who had undergone the same surgery “had no idea” how he was able to play again so quickly.