ORLANDO — Tiger Woods declared himself physically ready to compete after an 18-hole pro-am round Wednesday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational despite adding a back strain to his list of ailments.
Woods, who withdrew from the final round of WGC-Cadillac Championship two weeks ago because of a strained Achilles, tweaked his back on the sixth tee when he stopped his swing short due to a camera click — a move he's displayed before. While walking off the tee, Woods snapped at the photographer and briefly crouched to stretch his lower back. He went on to birdie that hole and seven of his final 11 for an unofficial eight-under 64 at Bay Hill, where he's won six times.
"I guess one of the so called professional photographers took a picture right in the middle of my downswing," Woods said afterward. "I stopped it, and then felt a pretty good twinge in my back. Walked it off and then tried to hit one down there, hit it in the fairway, but didn't feel very good. But after a couple of holes it loosened up, and I'm good to go now."
Woods showed no sign of a limp during his practice round, and he said he has recovered from the Achilles tendon injury that forced him to withdraw at Doral. Woods played his first public rounds since that injury on Monday and Tuesday at the Tavistock Cup, a two-day exhibition, and he's appeared healthy all week.
"I've had some good therapists on board, and they have done some really good work," Woods said. "I feel great, and that's the nice thing about getting treatment for three days, just getting off of it and just working on it two or three times a day, and good to go."
Woods spoke to reporters after his pro-am round. He was not asked any questions about his former coach Hank Haney's book The Big Miss, which will be released next week and reportedly says that Woods suffered a serious leg injury training with Navy SEALs. The book also shares personal details of his life. Earlier this month at the Honda Classic, Woods refused to answer questions about the book and had a minor confrontation with a reporter who asked about it.
But Woods did offer a surprise for those wondering if he may have overextended himself by playing a full round at Bay Hill, which seemed to be his third straight day of golf with four more still to follow: Wednesday was actually his fourth consecutive day of golf.
"You guys don't know, I played Augusta on Sunday," Woods said. "That's one of the reasons why I played Tavistock. It felt great at Augusta, and that was the test. I played Tavistock because of that test, and here I am ready to go."
On Wednesday Woods was paired with three amateur partners and appeared to be in high spirits for most of the day. He was joined inside the ropes for part of the round by his swing coach, Sean Foley, and ex-NFL star-turned-broadcaster Ahmad Rashad.
Woods had the first tee time of the day, 7:30 a.m., which has usually been his preference for practice rounds, and Rashad stopped by during Woods's early- morning warm-up. When Woods finished hitting wedge shots, he handed the club to Rashad, smiled and said "Thank you, son," and left his friend alone to wipe down the club.
"When Tiger plays, he zones out. Maybe he'll be a little more relaxed today," Rashad said near the first tee.
Other than the incident with the photographer, it appeared Woods was feeling fine throughout the day. On the opening tee, he took a 3-wood and hit a fade, a similar ball-flight to the tee shot he hit on the 12th hole at Doral, which turned out to be the knockout blow that sent Woods limping off the course. This time Woods appeared pain-free.
Woods said he's confident his rehab was sufficient to prepare him for his final push to the Masters, which begins in two weeks.
"I've had tightness before, but not to that extent," he said of his withdrawal at Doral. "But treatment afterwards always gets it right back to where it should be, and that's one of the reasons why I wasn't really that concerned about it."
Woods also said that he has altered his practice schedule recently to take some of the strain off his Achilles and his surgically repaired left knee.
"I've changed my practice routine based on that," he said. "If things aren't feeling right, I just won't hit balls for four or five hours. I'll go work on something else. You've got to work around it."
In one of the day's lighter moments, one of Woods's amateur partners drained a birdie on the opening hole and performed a Tiger-esque fist-pump before remembering Woods was watching him.
"I don't plan on making those," said Ed Brandt, a vice president at Mastercard. "But after I did the first pump, I asked Tiger, 'Did I get that right?' And he said, 'You got the first part right' — making the putt."