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No pain in the woods as Tiger gears for PGA

PAINLESS-TIGERLOUISVILLE, August 7- Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Wednesday on the eve of the PGA Championship, showing no signs of back spasms that had cast doubt on his being able to compete in the final major of the year.

At the same Valhalla venue where Woods claimed the 2000 PGA Championship, he played the front nine alongside Davis Love, Harris English and Steve Stricker.

“I felt pretty good about how I played and the shots I hit,” Woods said. “My range of motion was good. My firing sequence was back to normal. If my sequencing is good then it’s all good.”

Woods, who drew a huge crowd with every move after his playing status had been in doubt for the past two days, showed no trouble with driving distance after what looked like a typical practice session, saying he was pain free despite only putting on the back nine.

“I’m not in any pain. That is the good part,” Woods said.

“I need to get more feel for how this golf course is playing. It’s a totally different course than what I played in 2000. These greens are all different. There are some new things that we have to learn.”

Woods, whose most recent of 14 major wins came at the 2008 US Open, is scheduled to start off the 10th tee at 8:35 Thursday morning (1235 GMT) alongside two other past PGA Championship winners, fellow American Phil Mickelson and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington.

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

Woods pulled out of Sunday’s final round of the World Golf Championships event in Akron, Ohio, with a back injury. He jarred his back on the second hole at Firestone Country Club and withdrew after wincing in pain following a tee shot at the ninth hole.

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– Surgery, spasm unrelated –

Woods, who underwent back surgery on March 31 to relieve a pinched nerve, said his problems Sunday were unrelated to the operation.

“It’s not the site of the surgery. This is something totally different,” Woods said.

“Basically, when I landed on the bunker, my sacrum went out, so pinched the nerve and hence the spasm. My physio put it back in and we’ve just been treating it.

“I still need to build strength, continue to get stronger. Just going to take more time.”

After going home to Florida for treatment and examination by doctors, Woods decided Tuesday afternoon to play and arrived at the course Wednesday afternoon — his latest debut ever for a major — showing no signs of problems bending during practice swings at the driving range or hrough his round.

Woods missed the Masters and US Open while recovering from the surgery and played his first event since the operation in late June at the PGA event owned by his charity foundation, missing the cut at Congressional Country Club but expressing happiness at being able to play again, a joy the tour felt as well given the dip in US television ratings in Woods’ absence.

“We all know how much the viewing figures fluctuate depending on whether Tiger plays or not,” European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley said.

Last month, Woods finished joint 69th at the British Open, marking the worst 72-hole major finish of his pro career.

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Woods, 38, has struggled with various knee, leg and back injuries in recent years as his body breaks down under the strain of the long drives that were his trademark over a decade of golf dominance.

– Watson will wait and see –

Playing this week is critical for Woods as he tries to qualify for the US Ryder Cup team that will face holders Europe next month at Gleneagles, Scotland.

Barring a win this week, Woods will need a captain’s pick from Tom Watson and Woods is not qualified for the upcoming US PGA season-ending playoffs and could face a long layoff ahead of the Cup.

“It’s speculation what’s going to happen,” Watson said. “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen with Tiger. And I said right from the beginning, if he’s playing well and he’s in good health, I’ll pick him.”

Woods, chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has slid to 10th in the rankings after being overtaken for the world number one spot in May.

Woods, who turns 39 in December, has missed six majors in his career. Nicklaus did not miss his sixth major until the 2001 US Open at age 61.

Since the Masters began in 1934, no golfer has won more than three majors after turning 39. Nicklaus won two majors at 40 and his last at the 1986 Masters at 46.

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