LOUISVILLE, Ky. — TV cameras laid in wait. Reporters armed with notebooks and tape recorders stood expectantly outside the walkway that runs from the ninth green to the 10th tee at Valhalla Friday afternoon.
The parking space, the one that became so famous on Wednesday during the is-he-or-isn’t-he-here-yet watch, was mere steps away, behind a tall hedge. Tiger Woods’ Mercedes was parked there, and it would have been so easy for him to take his ailing back and head home.
After all, for much of the front nine, Woods could be seen walking gingerly, swinging with apparent caution and leaning on his putter to pick the ball out of the hole. He had yet to make a birdie in shooting 39, and none of the media vultures would have been surprised had Woods withdrawn from the 96th PGA Championship.
Caddie Joe LaCava took a turn for the car and there was a momentary hush. But he merely retrieved something, and Woods kept walking and joined Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson on the tee.
Woods did make two late birdies and ended up shooting his second straight 74. But the four-time PGA champ missed the cut by five strokes, making just his fourth early exit in 66 major starts as a pro.
“I tried as hard as I could,” Woods said. “That’s about all I got.”
With the missed cut at Valhalla, Woods’ 2013-14 PGA Tour season is over. His Ryder Cup hopes are anyone’s guess.
U.S. Captain Tom Watson has said for weeks he wanted a healthy and competitive Tiger Woods on his team. Whether he gets one of Watson’s picks on Sept. 2, though, is a big question mark — and Woods doesn’t know what he would tell Watson about his fitness right now.
“I don’t know,” Woods said. “He hasn’t called.”
Woods had surgery on March 31 to repair a pinched nerve in his back, and the PGA was his fourth tournament back. The results were hardly up to the 79-time TOUR winner’s standards — one WD, two missed cuts and solo 69th at The Open Championship.
The issue this week, though, was not related to the surgery. Woods took a tumble from an awkward stance into a bunker last week during the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and injured the sacrum at the base of his spine.
Woods went home and had treatment, keeping everyone in suspense until arriving on Wednesday to play nine holes and walk the remainder of Valhalla’s 18 to reacquaint himself with the course where he won the 2000 PGA in a playoff over Bob May. But the first round took its toll on Woods, and he knew when he hit balls on the range that Friday would be a long day.
“It was sore,” Woods said. “… It was telling me on the range probably wasn’t a good idea, but I’m not exactly a non-stubborn person.”
Woods, who has never missed three majors in the same season, said he had no regrets about teeing it up at Valhalla, though.
“As I said, it’s not where the surgery was,” he said. “It’s a different area. When I fell out of that bunker last week, it’s the same feeling, the same pain and same spasms.”
Right now, Woods says he is having a hard time making a back swing. He can’t get to the positions he’s used to in his takeaway so “I’ve got to rely on timing, hands and hopefully I can time it just right,” Woods said.
“You want the bigger muscles controlling the golf swing,” he explained. “I have to rely on my hands to do it. The face is rotating so fast through impact because I’m just not able to get my arms and the body in the correct spot.”
Woods says he needs to get back in the gym and work on his glutes and abs. Treatment on the course Friday might have helped in the short-term, he said, but it’s “not like we can call a time out and go in the locker room real quick like some sports can.”
“Obviously by playing, you can’t burn the candle at both ends,” Woods said. “I need to get stronger physically and be back to where I was.”