PGA: Late arrival, health report puts Tiger back in the spotlight

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The suspense is over.

Tiger Woods showed up at Valhalla on Wednesday, just a few hours before Thursday’s start of the 96th PGA Championship. After a brief practice session promised he’d tee off in Thursday’s first round.

Woods left the Bridgestone Invitational after nine holes on Sunday after injuring his back. He returned to Florida while his caddie, Joe LaCava, came here to scout the course that will host the year’s final major championship for the third time.

Though he skipped a scheduled Tuesday press conference Woods did request an extension of his registration time and the PGA of America granted it. On Wednesday, after playing some practice holes, he declared himself ready to go.

Woods underwent back surgery after a slow start to this season and hasn’t played well since his return. He re-injured his back hitting a shot from an awkward lie in a bunker on the second hole in the Bridgestone tourney at Firestone in Akron, Ohio. He played on, but was in obvious pain after hitting his tee shot at the ninth hole and withdrew. He head to his Florida home to undergo treatment.

“Basically, when I landed on the bunker my sacrum went out,’’ Woods said in an impromptu meeting with the media on Wednesday. “So, I pinched the nerve and hence the spasm. My physio put it back in and we’ve just been treating it.’’

Woods downplayed any danger of his playing this week.

“My physio is here. If it does go out, he’s able to fix it,’’ said Woods. “It’s one of those things again. I still need to build strength, still continue to get stronger. It’s just going to take more time.’’

He said the pain is gone.

“The treatments have been fantastic – once the bone was put back in,’’ he said. “It was a different pain than what I had been experiencing, so I knew it wasn’t the site of the surgery.’’

Woods won the PGA the last time it was held at Valhalla in 2000, beating Bob May in an epic four-hole playoff. The course has undergone changes since then, and Woods said his yardage book from that tournament is “useless.’’

“There’s some new things that we have to learn out there,’’ said Woods. “Joey has been here on the ground. He’s got a pretty good handle on it. We’ll run through some more of it as we go. I feel good about the shots I hit. I need to get more feel for how this golf course in playing. I’m not used to seeing the chipping areas like this. We didn’t have that in 2000. It was just deep bluegrass.’’

Though he’s playing, Woods’ play this entire season wouldn’t suggest he’ll contend in the upcoming 72-hole battle. Rory McIlroy, the winner at Bridgestone, comes in as the consensus favorite to claim the title that Jason Dufner won last year at Kiawah in South Carolina.

That doesn’t mean the players are counting Woods out.

“He still has a huge impact, especially on the media side,’’ said Ricky Fowler, who has played the first three majors better than any other player but didn’t win any of them. “You can see all the attention with last week WD-ing and this week not registering on time. I want to see Tiger around, but I want to see him healthy and at his best. Unfortunately he’s not healthy and not at his best right now.’’