NORTON — It was an early start — just the way he likes it — but Thursday couldn’t have ended any better for Tiger Woods.
Arriving at TPC Boston for his pro-am round at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Woods was hoping to play nine holes without any back pain, days after sporadic spasms dropped him to his knees and left his availability for this week’s tournament in question.
Woods felt so good, though, and had no issues through the front nine that he kept right on playing, ditching his plan and joining his four pro-am partners — including the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg — for all 18 holes.
“I was only going to play nine holes and chip and putt on the back nine,” Woods said. “But it felt so good I continued playing.”
If you weren’t aware that Woods had recently been felled by a balky back, you couldn’t tell on Thursday. He looked pain-free: never wincing, swinging hard, and freely bending down to pick up tees, read putts, and fix ball marks. He even jogged a few times to catch up to his playing partners.
“It’s a lot better than obviously on Sunday,” Woods said, referring to the last round of the Barclays, when despite the pain he shot 69 and tied for second. “It was a pleasant surprise to go out there and play without any discomfort today.”
Woods withdrew from a charity outing on Wednesday, and had said on Sunday that playing in the Deutsche Bank Championship later in the week was “all hypothetical.” But he was issued his standard pro-am time at TPC Boston (6:50 a.m., first tee), and was officially paired for the first two rounds with Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott.
It wasn’t until Woods arrived at TPC Boston in his courtesy car just after 6:15 a.m. Thursday, though, that anyone could definitively conclude that he was finally on the property and intending to play.
An abbreviated warm-up session followed — the first time he had swung a club since Sunday — and then Woods was off, confident that the treatment he had received over the past week would allow him to compete.
“Ice, [stimulation], ultrasound, soft tissue . . . and plenty of rest, something I’m not real good at, but I was forced to do it,” Woods said when asked what the treatment plan involved. “I’m going to have to do it. I don’t want to have to do it. Hopefully, my back will stay where it’s at right now and, if not, improve so I can start doing the other little exercises, start strengthening it and getting back to where it needs to be.”
Did he get treatment prior to his round?
Will he get treatment after his round?
Woods said he was treating his back this week as a “day-to-day deal” as far as practice goes, but it didn’t look like he held anything back on Thursday, hitting driver off most tees and testing himself on the few occasions when his ball settled in some difficult spots on a wet, misty morning. Translation: prime conditions to slip on wet grass and tweak your back. But Woods hit a low, running bullet out of the right rough on No. 5, and had no trouble at No. 17, when his drive went just through the fairway and the ball was well above his feet.
After a towering drive split the fairway at the par-5 second hole, Woods’s swing coach, Sean Foley, offered a simple, two-word review: “Good, dude.” Foley walked the front nine with his client, deemed his form favorable, then attended to other duties.
Woods shot 71, according to the scorecard, making birdies on Nos. 7, 12, and 18.
Woods had some lighthearted moments on Thursday, needling his caddie, Joe LaCava, letting a military caddie putt for him at No. 17, and providing 4-year-old Graden Lomax a mid-round snack on the 14th tee.
“Are you hungry?” Woods asked.
“Yeah!” said Graden, who lives in Wrentham and was sitting on the shoulders of his father, Denton.
“Want a burger?” Woods countered, offering the boy a late-morning treat from a pro-am concession station.
When Woods reached his ball in the 14th fairway, he bent down and began laughing. Keegan Bradley, playing in the group in front of him, had written something on Woods’s ball. Neither player chose to share the inscription — but safe to say it wasn’t suitable for print.
Thursday was a day to have fun. The serious business begins on Friday, when Woods will attempt to maintain his No. 1 position in the PGA Tour’s points standings. He’ll also be looking for win No. 6 on the season, on a course he likes and in a tournament he’s won once before, in 2006. Woods, Mickelson, and Scott have an 8:40 a.m. tee time off No. 10.
The Tiger Woods Foundation has been the event’s primary charitable beneficiary since 2003, and this year the foundation has taken over daily operations of the tournament. So Woods not only had a professional interest in getting his back healthy enough to play this week, but a personal one.
“I’m excited to be back, this is exciting for us, [with] the foundation now running the event,” Woods said. “I wanted to get back here. This is one of my favorite tournaments. I’ve played well here over the years.
“It was nice to go out there today and be able to play 18 holes and have no issues whatsoever.”