Tiger Woods and playing partner Phil Mickelson share a laugh on the 16th green Thursday. Mickelson shot 69, Woods 74. (Sam Greenwood / Getty Images)
Louisville, Ky. — Tiger Woods surveyed his options from so far left of the fairway he was up to his ankles in grass in a hazard he didn’t even know was there.
He could take it over the trees and go sideways, but it might be tough to keep it in the fairway.
“What about left gallery?” Woods asked his caddie.
“That’s actually not bad,” Joe LaCava replied.
He wasn’t trying to hit anyone — that was just a good sight line. And it gave him the best angle to the green. But it spoke to the state of his game Thursday in the opening round of the PGA Championship.
He was so wild at times that his best option was to aim at the crowd.
Woods made only one birdie at Valhalla — a chip-in from a collection area left of the 15th green — on his way to a 3-over 74. That left him nine shots behind the leaders and in danger of missing the cut in the PGA Championship for the second time in four years.
“It wasn’t very good,” Woods said. “A lot of bad shots, and I never got a putt to the hole.”
At least he still has his health. Woods said he was a little stiff from his most recent back injury Sunday at Firestone, though he looked the same as he has since returning from March 31 back surgery that kept him out of golf for three months.
But the “new normal” is nothing like the old Tiger Woods.
Even before his back surgery, Woods has looked nothing like the player who won five times last year.
From the middle of the 12th fairway, he came up 20 yards short of the flag on the par-4 12th and had to scramble for par. He hit a spectator in the left hip with a tee shot on the par-3 14th that was 20 yards left of his target.
Woods played the back nine in 1-over 37, and then quickly went the wrong direction.
“I thought he played with a lot of heart,” said playing partner Phil Mickelson, who shot 69. “It’s not easy when your game isn’t where you want it and you’re hitting shots that you don’t normally hit to fight hard. I thought the second hole was a great example, when he hooked it into the water. A lot of guys would just play as focused, not put it all in the next shot. He grinded out a bogey. I thought that showed a lot of heart.”
Defending champion Jason Dufner has withdrawn from the PGA Championship because of a neck injury.
Dufner has been coping with two bulging disks in his neck since the Masters. He has tried to play through the pain this year, and even had an injection before playing in the Bridgestone Invitational.
“There’s no point to be out there hacking it around,” he said before climbing into a courtesy car alongside wife Amanda and driving away from Valhalla Golf Club. “It’s just pointless.”
Dufner is No. 8 in the Ryder Cup standings. Qualifying for the Americans ends this week.
Matt Kuchar (back) also withdrew.
Chappell takes advantage
Kevin Chappell still isn’t certain how he got invited to the PGA Championship. He sure made the most of it.
Chappell and his wife were in a grocery store in Nevada 10 days ago, making plans for how to spend a week off during the final major of the year.
That’s when his agent forwarded him an email from the PGA of America congratulating him on being part of the field at Valhalla Golf Club.
“I wanted to know how — or why,” Chappell said after opening with a 6-under 65 to share the lead with Lee Westwood and Ryan Palmer.
This has been a mediocre year by his standards. His only top-10 finish was at the Colonial (tie for 10th). He was not eligible or did not qualify for any of the majors. The PGA Championship tries to assemble the top 100 players from the world ranking. Chappell was at No. 104.