Tiger Woods was a question mark for the 2014 PGA Championship after withdrawing during the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday. He decided to play in the season's final major, but he lacked championship form en route to a three-over-par 74 in Round 1 Thursday.
The 14-time major champion arrived to Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville amid plenty of fanfare on Wednesday and played nine holes without issue. His presence eliminated concerns about a serious setback in his recovery from back surgery earlier in the year.
Hank Gola of the New York Daily News passed along comments from Woods' meeting with the press after his ninth hole of practice. He only walked the rest of the course, but he said the back problem was no longer an issue and he was working to regain strength.
Will Woods ever win another major title?
"It pinched the nerve and hence the spasm," he said. "My physio put it back in and we've just been treating it. My physio is here. If it does go out, he's able to fix it. I still need to build strength. It's just going to take more time."
Being healthy enough to play and performing on a level high enough to compete for a major title are obviously different.
Woods has played poorly since his return from injury in late June. He missed the cut in the Quicken Loans National, finished a distant 69th at The Open Championship and then fell off the pace at the Bridgestone Invitational before dropping out.
Things didn't get any better on Thursday. Here's a look at his scorecard from the opening round after starting on the back nine:
The effort left Woods nine strokes behind leaders Lee Westwood and Kevin Chappell as he walked off the course.
Here's a look at the updated leaderboard:
Woods' first shot of the day on the par-five 10th found the left rough, a popular place for him over the past couple weeks. He wasn't able to recover from the off-target tee shot and missed out on a good chance to start the tournament with a birdie.
He followed it up with a bogey on the 11th. If he was dreaming about getting himself into contention, that certainly wasn't the two-hole stretch he had in mind.
Following the round, Woods spoke about his performance (via PGA.com):
It wasn't very good. A lot of bad shots and I never got a putt to the hole. I hit them all my lines. Just for some reason I thought they were going to be a little bit quicker, and I didn't make the adjustment well enough.
I had plenty of looks to turn my round around and then post something even par, even under par.
Woods was also asked about his back after a full round of golf:
"It's a little bit stiff, but that's about it. ... The surgery part is fine. That's all good."
Padraig Harrington also weighed in on Woods following the first round, via Dave Shedlowski of Golf World magazine:
Padraig Harrington on Tiger: "He looks like a man who needs to play some golf. He looked ... raw." Kinda nails it. #PGAChampionship— Dave Shedloski (@DaveShedloski) August 7, 2014
Despite Woods' recent struggles, David Feherty of the Golf Channel pointed out there's always a different feeling around the course when Tiger is around:
And.....Tiger is back. it's like someone let nitrous oxide into the press room.— David Feherty (@Fehertwit) August 7, 2014
After a couple pars, Woods dropped another shot on No. 14. There are two par threes on the back nine, and he bogeyed them both. As you may expect, iron shots were an issue, as noted by Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:
Two par-3s, two bogeys for Tiger. Iron play is poor so far.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) August 7, 2014
He finally dropped in his first birdie of the day two holes later, albeit in unusual fashion.
The 10th-ranked golfer in the world hit a perfect tee shot, which could be the biggest surprise of all, but followed it up with a poor approach. But just when it looked like he would be forced to settle for par, he chipped in for his first dropped stroke of the round.
PGA.com highlighted the shot Woods probably hoped would turn his day around:
Unfortunately for Tiger and the legion of fans following him around Valhalla, it wasn't a momentum builder. The round started slipping away after he made the turn.
His first two tee shots on the front nine were both disastrous. They both went way left, continuing that aforementioned trend, and left him in tough positions. Golf Channel's Tiger Tracker noted the frustration began to show after the second wild miss:
Fairway wood at 2 goes way, way left. He lets out a "FFST." I'll let you guess what that means because it's, um, not suitable for children.— GC Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) August 7, 2014
Woods carded bogeys on both holes, and quite frankly, that was a good result. He could have easily dropped two or three more strokes over that span.
Aside from the bogey "saves," Trey Wingo of ESPN summed up the situation:
This is becoming painful to watch. Now Tiger can't even find the fairway with a 3 wood.— trey wingo (@wingoz) August 7, 2014
Dan Jenkins of Golf Digest provided some non-traditional stats:
Some stats on Tiger: Three one-handers, a drop, a chip-in and a dozen lie scowls. He reacts as if a beavers buried his ball.— Dan Jenkins (@danjenkinsgd) August 7, 2014
There was a brief stretch over the next three holes where he had an opportunity to make a charge. His tee shots were better and his approaches actually gave him a look at some birdies, but his putter went cold and he couldn't capitalize.
PGA.com showed what it looks like when he finds the fairway with his driver, a rare feat during his current malaise:
The trend of up-and-down play continued. He was able to grind out pars and prevent the round from becoming even worse, but the shot-making just wasn't there for him to make any type of serious run.
He made seven straight pars to finish the round at three over.
Ultimately, it would take an extraordinary effort from Woods over the next three days to get back into contention. And while every now and then he'll showcase some vintage form, the lack of consistency since his return suggests it's not a realistic expectation.
Simply making the cut so he can get more reps on a major course would be a positive step. He always contends he only shows up to an event when he thinks winning is possible, but it's clear there's plenty of work to do before he gets back to that level moving forward.
Woods is slated to tee off the second round with Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington at 1:45 p.m. ET on Friday. He will be looking to improve every area of his game after a sloppy start.