The question was inevitable and the answer was predictable. Tiger Woods says his back is fine.
Woods played in the pro-am yesterday at the Deutsche Bank Championship and appeared to be swinging freely.
The last image of Woods on a golf course looked much worse. Four days ago, he dropped to his knees after a back spasm during the final round of The Barclays, where he finished one shot behind winner Adam Scott.
Woods said after that round it was “hypothetical” whether he would play the Deutsche Bank, adding that he had just walked off the course and wasn’t feeling very good.
Golf Channel had a camera on the practice range at the TPC Boston to document his arrival. Woods warmed up, and then headed to the first tee for his pro-am round with a group that included New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One of his amateurs asked Woods about his back, and Woods gave a short answer that he was fine.
The Deutsche Bank Championship is the second play-off event for the FedEx Cup. Woods remains No 1 in the standings, narrowly ahead of Scott, with Phil Mickelson at No 3. Those three players will be in the featured group the opening two rounds of the tournament that starts today and has a traditional Monday finish on America’s Labor Day.
Woods, who already has his tenth season of at least five wins on the PGA Tour in the bag, has still not made it through an entire season without a health issue since returning from reconstructive knee surgery in 2009. He missed two tournaments this year because of an elbow injury suffered in May. He also had tightness in his lower back during the final round of the PGA Championship.
Woods said last week he experienced stiffness in his lower back and neck because of a soft mattress in his New York hotel. He decided to only chip and putt on the back nine of his pro-am last week at Liberty National as a precaution. Over the next four days, he said his back was OK at the start of the round but got progressively worse.
Meanwhile, Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter knows exactly what he has to do to remain in the FedEx Cup play-offs. Poulter is 77th in the standings with only the top 70 on Monday advancing to the BMW Championship, in Illinois on 12 September.
The top 30 after that event will then play for the FedEx Cup and $10million (£6.45m) bonus in the Tour Championship in Atlanta the following week.
Just 28 players in this week’s 100-strong field have already secured a place in the BMW Championship, leaving 42 places up for grabs.
Poulter could climb as high as third in the standings with a victory but his first target will be a finish of 38th or better to remain in the hunt.
US Open champion Justin Rose is fifth in the standings and could move above Woods, Scott, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar with a win, while Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy are just outside the safety zone. Westwood is 31st and could drop to 77th by missing the cut in Boston, with defending champion McIlroy 36th and still searching for the form which saw him close with two 67s last year to beat Louis Oosthuizen by a shot and then win the BMW Championship six days later.
“These next few events are a good opportunity to get something good out of the season,” said McIlroy, who has slipped from first to fourth in the world in a season which brought just one top-three finish compared to five wins in 2012.
In his last five tournaments, McIlroy is a combined 20 over par, although that does include finishing 14 over in the US Open and being 12 over when missing the cut in The Open at Muirfield. The 24-year-old finished eighth in the defence of his title in the US PGA Championship at Oak Hill and last week was 19th in The Barclays, including a second round of 65. “It feels much better,” McIlroy said when asked to compare his game now to two months ago. “I’m not as comfortable with my game as I was this time last year, but I’m in enough control that, if I get on a nice run, I can do well.”