LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Time will tell if Tiger Woods made a big mistake in playing the PGA Championship this week rather than sitting at home in Florida with his feet up, resting his aching back. Time might start talking as soon as Friday, if Woods has another round like the one he had Thursday and misses the cut.
All we have to go on right now is what Woods said after he shot 3-over-par 74 at Valhalla Golf Club while a whole lot of other guys were scoring much lower.
"It wasn't very good,'' he said of his round, although he could have been describing the excitement in his highly anticipated marquee grouping with Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington. There were no fireworks and there was very little spark, other than Mickelson's comeback from a poor start to shoot 2 under.
If Woods were sipping truth serum, he might have even used those very words to describe the condition of his lower back, which caused him to withdraw from yet another tournament last Sunday. What he did say was: "It's a little bit stiff, but that's about it.''
He reiterated that the recent flare-up has nothing to do with his microdiscectomy in late March. "The surgery part is fine,'' he said. "That's all good.''
Not much else was good about his day, which raised the issue of why he created the "will he or won't he?" intrigue about playing this week, and why he went through the trouble of rushing up here on Wednesday. It also did nothing to stifle questions about whether he should be on the Ryder Cup team (the vote from this precinct says no) and where he goes from here.
"The man looks like he needs to play some golf,'' Harrington said after watching Woods hook tee shots on Nos. 1 and 2 (the 10th and 11th holes their group played) and push one 50 yards right on No. 7.
"He looked kind of raw -- just not enough rounds under the belt to score and do the right things,'' Harrington said. "I tell you what, if he holed a few putts . . . He really didn't hole too many putts. He could have shot a decent score.''
Woods' schedule has been an interesting topic for years. There are some -- this observer included -- who believe he owes it to his sport and to himself to play in some of the lower-profile tournaments that he always has skipped. At this stage in his life, it is hard for him to be at his peak in majors while playing only in majors and a handful of other big events. The humility involved with going to the Valero Texas Open or to the Travelers would not hurt him, either.
The other problem is the stress inflicted on a body by a modern golf swing by a pro in the Woods-inspired weight training era. Woods, 38, has had one injury after another. Matt Kuchar dropped out of this event Wednesday because of a bad back. Defending champion Jason Dufner withdrew after 10 holes Thursday with a neck issue. "I haven't made a birdie in 45 holes and I'm just not able to play golf right now,'' Dufner said.
Said U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, "They are falling like flies.''
Not falling Thursday were Woods' putts, or his score in relation to par. Mickelson said that given his longtime rival's condition, "I thought he played with a lot of heart. It's not easy, when your game isn't where you want it and you're hitting shots that you don't normally hit, to fight hard.''
But Woods is used to eliciting awe, not sympathy. He has to wonder if it was worth the trip for a day that wasn't very good.