LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Wednesday afternoons at major championships are generally the quietest hours of the week. Most golfers usually are done preparing so you don't expect to experience electricity or see huge crowds. On this Wednesday in particular, it was definitely an upset to hear this from one of the many fans standing along the first fairway: "Tiger crushed that drive."
Tiger Woods proved again Wednesday that he not only can draw attention, but that he also is full of surprises. Only three days after he staggered off the course at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, unable to untie his shoes because he had hurt his surgically repaired back, Woods made an unexpected comeback at the PGA Championship.
It was easy to assume he would take this week off, and probably stay quiet for the rest of the year. But in as big an upset as unheralded Bob May reaching a playoff here at Valhalla Golf Club during the 2000 PGA Championship (losing to Woods), Woods pronounced himself fit and pain free for his marquee 8:35 tee time Thursday with Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington. "As you saw out there, I've got my speed, my power, and I just need to obviously keep moving," he said.
The pain Sunday was in a different spot than the site of his microdiscectomy in late March, he said after having played nine holes with Steve Stricker, Davis Love III and Harris English -- and before walking the back nine, mostly chipping and putting, just to keep moving. The problem this time, he said, was an out of kilter sacrum, a triangular shaped bone at the bottom of the spine. After an awkward swing from the bank of a bunker Sunday, the bone pinched a nerve, which caused spasms.
He explained that his physiotherapist put it back in place. "Oh, I feel good. Once the bone is put back in, it's all good," he said.
So he hit balls early this week at his Florida home and realized he had a good range of motion. He got an extension from tournament officials, giving him more time to decide after the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline for player registration.
By Tuesday afternoon, he was pretty sure he could give it a go for his only major on U.S. soil this year. And there he was Wednesday, hitting full shots and never wincing during an oddly spirited Wednesday afternoon.
"It's crazy isn't it," Stricker said, "how many people are out there? Everybody had their phones and cameras up."
Stricker is one of the pros with whom Woods feels most comfortable -- each of them can say anything to the other, after their many matches together in the Ryder and Presidents Cups -- and he had no clue what his afternoon was going to be like until it arrived.
"Davis Love and I were going to play together and then I got a text from Davis saying Tiger may join us. It was fun to see him, fun to see how he's doing," Stricker said. "He was in a great mood. I thought he did a lot of good things. You wouldn't know he was hurt last week. It looked like he was explosive and he's in good shape. I thought he had a lot of speed, a lot of iron shots and he drove it good."
Woods' long game appeared solid, his chipping looked rusty. "I played all right. All right, nothing great," he said. "It's only Wednesday."