Tiger Woods 'pain free' ahead of PGA Championship

Tiger Woods of the United States smiles while warming up on the practice range at the 2014 PGA...

Tiger Woods of the United States smiles while warming up on the practice range at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Course in Louisville, Kentucky August 6, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

TIM McKAY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:41 PM ET

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Tiger Woods has risen from the bunker.

Yes, folks, the 14-time major winner appeared at Valhalla Golf Club on Wednesday, ending the speculation about whether he would show up for this week’s PGA Championship.

Woods arrived at Valhalla – where he beat Bob May in a playoff for the 2000 PGA Championship – a mere 18 hours before he was to tee off with Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington Thursday morning.

He played nine holes before walking the back nine with caddie Joe LaCava.

The good news, he said, is that the back injury he sustained Sunday during the final round of the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational, had nothing to do with his microdiscectomy surgery on March 31.

“It’s not the site of the surgery, this is something totally different,” Woods told a throng of reporters at an impromptu news conference after his ninth hole, adding Sunday’s injury was an issue with his sacrum, the large bone located at the base of the spine. “When I landed it just jarred it, and it jarred it loose, made it come out.”

Woods flew home from Akron, Ohio, Sunday and has been undergoing treatments from his physiotherapist since.

“I had been having back spasms and my physio put it back in and we’ve just been treating it, soft tissue, and just treating it,” he said. “My physio is here, so if it does go out, he’s able to fix it. It’s just one of those things where, again, I just need to build strength, still continue to get stronger and it’s just going to take more time.”

Woods said he’s taking anti-inflammatory medication but not any painkillers, “because I’m not in any pain.”

“I felt good, once the bone’s put back in, it’s all good. The inflammation’s been down, I’ve got range of motion. As you saw out there, I’ve got my speed, I’ve got my power. I’ve just got to obviously just keep it up.”

So, now that he’s here and he’s feeling good, what about the state of his golf game? It hadn’t exactly been great before he was injured.

“I played all right,” Woods said following his first trip around Valhalla since 2000. “I mean, nothing great, it’s only Wednesday, I want my good stuff starting tomorrow.”

Woods missed Tuesday’s deadline to enter the tournament, but was granted an extension.

“Probably (Tuesday) afternoon,” he said of when he made his decision to play. “My range of motion was good, my firing sequence was back to normal, the sequencing was good, so if my sequencing is good, then it’s all good.”

With all the medical updates out of the way, Woods said it was nice to get a look at Valhalla, which had been renovated since he last played here.

“It feels great to be back here, the fans are great, they’re loud, they’re into it. It’s a totally different golf course than what I played in 2000,” he said. “These greens are all different. I have my book from 2000, it’s useless, so there’s some new things that we have to learn out there.”

Woods said that in order to win he has to “hit it good and make every putt, kind of like I did in 2000.”

And he’s not playing just for kicks, either.

“I’m going to go out there and try to win this event and that’s all I’m focused on.”

Just for good measure, someone asked one last time whether he was in any pain.

“Pain free, yeah, except for the headache of talking to you guys.”

Yup, Tiger’s back.

DAVID HEARN QUIETLY CONFIDENT

Quietly, David Hearn is putting together a solid season on the PGA Tour.

This week at the PGA Championship, he’s exuding a quiet confidence that he can do well in the season’s final major.

The psychology major has a great mindset coming into the tournament where all the hype has been about whether Rory McIlroy can win his third tournament in a row and his fourth major, and whether 14-time major champion Tiger Woods will even play.

This tournament has a history of somewhat surprising victors – John Daly in 1991, Mark Brooks in ’96 (at Valhalla), and Shaun Micheel in 2003, to name a few – and Hearn thinks he has just as good a shot winning this week as anyone.

“I think every week I tee it up I’m competitive enough to win a golf tournament and if it were to happen to me this week, obviously that would be my mark on the game,” the Brantford, Ont., resident said. “Obviously, winning any golf tournament would be huge, and to win a major on top of that would be pretty amazing for me to get my first win at a tournament like this.

“It has got to happen somewhere for the first time, so why not this week?”

It certainly would be a shocker for the golf world if the 35-year-old, 94th-ranked golfer in the world, was to contend this week, but for Canadians who have tracked Hearn’s progress it’s not that far-fetched.

Hearn almost snapped the Canadian winless drought last season when he lost in a playoff at the John Deere Classic. He lost to somebody else who was search of his career victory, the young Jordan Spieth.

Hearn’s game is set up for the type of golf typically played in major championships. Demanding golf courses play right into his hands and he thrives on grinding out a round and taking his opportunities when they’re presented.

“It’s not really a theory, I just think I tend to do a lot of things very well, and for me, when we get to the harder golf courses, that’s when I tend to play a little bit better,” Hearn said. “I can kind of grind out a day and when I don’t quite have it, I can shoot even par on a hard course still. My game sort of suits difficult golf courses well and I enjoy these types of golf courses. I enjoy the challenge of trying to make good pars and then throw in a few birdies on top of that.”

Hearn’s best finish in a major was a tie for 21st at the 2013 U.S. Open and he had a very respectable tie for 32nd at the British Open a few weeks ago.

He doesn’t see the Valhalla Golf Club yielding terribly low scores this week, which also could help him stay in the mix.

“The scores in 2000 when Tiger (Woods) and Bob (May) were like 20-under (it was actually a tournament-record 18-under), I don’t think we’re going to see much of that this week,” Hearn said. “I think the course is just a little bit too long for that. Even if it softens up, it’s just going to play a little longer.

“I think the course is playing great and I think that it’s going to be a fun major.”

tim.mckay@sunmedia.ca

Twitter@TimMcKayGolf

 


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