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Woods late practice appearance at Valhalla grabs attention on eve of PGA

No one was sure whether Tiger Woods would play at this year's PGA Championship until he showed up at Valhalla on Wednesday (Photo from PGATOUR.com)

No one was sure whether Tiger Woods would play at this year’s PGA Championship until he showed up at Valhalla on Wednesday (Photo from PGATOUR.com)

By Brian Wacker

It was only a nine-hole practice round but you wouldn’t know it by the swarm that surrounded Tiger Woods wherever he went Wednesday at Valhalla Golf Club.

When he pulled his silver Mercedes GL450 SUV into its designated space at 1:16 p.m. ET, there was already an army of cameramen, photographers and media surrounding it. Twelve minutes later, Woods struck his first ball to a packed driving range. Fans, players, even more media. Everyone wanted a glimpse.

At 1:58 p.m., Woods hit driver for the first time and shortly thereafter made his way to the first hole. There were no visible signs of pain or so much as a wince after a warm-up session that lasted just over 30 minutes.

Just three days ago, Woods struggled to tie his shoes after withdrawing halfway through the final round at Firestone. He said Wednesday that he had suffered a pinched nerve, but that it was not related to back surgery he had at the end of March that kept him out for three months.

Woods said his trainer adjusted the area above the sacrum and that he felt good and was pain-free.

“Once the bone is put back in, it’s all good,” Woods said. “The inflammation has been down, I’ve had range of motion. As you saw out there, I got my speed, my power, and I just need to obviously keep moving.”

His late arrival at the PGA Championship also ended speculation that he might miss his third major of the season. It came with plenty of attention, too.

The grandstand behind the tee box at No. 1 was filled to the top and the gallery along the rope line a dozen thick in some spots. Woods played with pals Steve Stricker and Davis Love III. The fourth member of the group was Harris English, a newbie to a Woods practice round via his connection with Sea Island, Georiga, buddy Love.

When they teed off on the 450-yard opener, Woods hit third in the order — and ended up outdriving everyone. It was no small feat given his recent string of injuries and the fact that English is one of the game’s young bombers. Woods got him by a few yards in the short grass up the right side.

The next shot from Woods was even better. He stiffed his approach to a couple of feet to draw the loudest cheer he had heard on the course all day.

It wasn’t for a lack of fans. On the third hole, spectators scampered up the hill to the right of the tee box, everyone trying to get a look at the four-time PGA champion.

As Woods made his way around the front nine before ditching his bag for a couple of wedges and his putter on the back nine, the fans followed.

“Don’t bend over and hurt yourself,” someone said.

“You ‘da man!” shouted another.

Inside the ropes, things were just as hectic.

Dozens of various media outlets tracked Woods’ every move. Camera shutters clattered like fully automatic machine guns with every swing. A boom mic followed Woods onto each tee box.

Joining on the second hole was Woods’ coach Sean Foley, who trailed him the entire front nine before peeling off. He chatted regularly with Woods and at times slid in behind him to watch him swing.

Asked if he was concerned by anything he saw in Woods’ swing, which looked a touch shorter and seemed a little less aggressive into his left side, Foley said, “No.”

Woods wasn’t concerned with much, either. Mostly, he had good reason.

He hit a wedge close on the short par-4 fourth, found a handful of fairways off the tee and on the ninth left himself what would have been a tap-in birdie if they were keeping score.

“I felt pretty good about how I played and the shots I hit,” he said. “I need to get more feel for how this golf course is playing.”

That was evident on the fifth hole when Woods bladed one chip through the green from a tightly mowed area.

“Nothing great,” Woods said in assessing his play. “It’s only Wednesday.”

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As for his expectations? They’re the same as always.

“Just play well,” Woods said. “That’s the only thing I can control. Try to go out there and win this event. That’s all I’m focused on.”

When Woods tees off Thursday at 8:35 a.m. ET alongside Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington it’s a safe bet everyone will be focusing on him.

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