Tiger strains back in pro-am, says he's fine

Tiger Woods stretches after he felt a twinge in his lower back during his tee shot on the sixth hole during the Pro-Am round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Tiger Woods stretches after he felt a twinge in his lower back during his tee shot on the sixth hole during the Pro-Am round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday

• • •

ORLANDO, Fla. – As if Tiger Woods hasn’t had enough physical problems the last couple of years, he got a scare Wednesday in the Arnold Palmer Invitational Pro-Am. He stopped his downswing on the sixth tee when he heard the click of a photographer’s camera and grabbed his back after feeling a “pretty good twinge.”

As Winston Churchill said when giving his definition of history, it’s one damned thing after another. The good news for Woods is there was no lingering effect.

“Walked it off and then tried to hit it in the fairway, but it didn’t feel very good,” Woods said. “But after a couple of holes, it loosened up and I’m good to go now.”

Woods is making his first PGA Tour start since he withdrew because of left Achilles tightness 10 days ago after 11 holes of the WGC-Cadillac Championship final round. He said he “feels great” after daily therapy; hence he’s in the midst of playing eight days in a row, counting a Masters practice round Sunday and the Tavistock Cup on Monday-Tuesday.

Woods said he has shortened his practice sessions because of the recurring leg problems and monitors the situation more than he used to. The withdrawal at Doral hinted at a more cautious nature.

“I used to be able to just kind of play through it,” said Woods, who most notably won the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg. “But that’s also set me back. And one of the reasons why I had (four knee) surgeries is that I would ignore those and just kind of play through it. I had success, but it was also a detriment at the same time.”

Much has been made of Woods’ inaccurate driving in recent seasons. You might be surprised to know – and coach Sean Foley proud to know – that Woods at the moment ranks first on Tour in total driving, which combines distance (17th) and accuracy (ninth).

That’s the good news. The bad news is it’s based on a small sample. Woods has played but 13 1/2 rounds, and has had 22 measured for distance and 153 for accuracy.

Arnold Palmer, golf legend and tournament host, said he has questioned some swing changes Woods has made in the past couple of years.

That said, Palmer added, “If I were making a prediction, I would say, 'Look out,' because one of these days he’s going to come back and play pretty good golf.”

During an introduction at a news conference Wednesday, Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Palmer has been “probably more impactful on where the PGA Tour is today than anybody in history.”

I’d like to see the look on the face of Woods, the man behind the escalation of annual purses from less than $70 million to about $280 million, when he reads that.

Anthony Kim walked onto the Bay Hill putting green Wednesday, and the question was whether he’s improving.

“I’m getting better,” he said, smiling. “I couldn’t get worse.”

Kim, a member of the victorious 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team, has made one cut in six Tour starts this year, tying for 42nd at the Honda Classic.

His problem? Driving.

Having picked up bad habits after coming back from thumb injury, Kim has hit but 50.78 of fairways this year, ranking 178th. And because he has put himself in too many spots of bother, he is 171st in greens in regulation.

“All he’s got to do is straighten out his driving and he’ll be back,” said his longtime coach, Adam Schriber. “His swing gets under the plane, and he misses both ways. He always used to take out the left side of the course but hasn’t been able to do that.”

There’s no wonder Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy are Nos. 1-2, respectively, in the world. The latest supporting evidence: Donald ranks first on Tour in putting, and McIlroy, perhaps the game’s best driver, is tops in scoring and scrambling.

Statistical minutiae of the week: Hale Irwin, who owns a record 45 victories on the Champions Tour, has earned more than $1,200 per hole on the over-50 tour. He averaged $142 a hole during his PGA Tour days.

Hmmm: Bo Van Pelt and Thomas Bjorn withdrew from the Palmer tournament after playing the Tavistock Cup the previous two days. And Bjorn shot 5-under-par 67 Tuesday.

It could be more curious though. Adam Scott, with nine 2012 Tour rounds under his belt, played the Tavistock but isn’t at Bay Hill.

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