Temper expectations for Tiger at PGA

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- There is no better fodder for the conspiracy theory types, the kind that seems to make them jump with joy. Tiger Woods looked pretty good Wednesday at Valhalla, so he must have been tanking it Sunday at Firestone.

There is no more Tiger-related, hate-fueled narrative than that one, simply because, well ... he didn't want to shoot a bad round of golf?

Five times since 2010, Woods has withdrawn midround from a golf tournament citing injury, including twice this year. Two of the cases were followed by long layoffs. Another was the result of a previous break he didn't want to occur again.

If anything, Woods' stubbornness in the past probably led to more issues. It was his unwillingness to quit -- when perhaps he should have -- that caused more problems. Example: the 2011 Players Championship, when he came back too soon from knee and Achilles injuries and missed another three months, including two major championships.

Woods walked off at the Honda Classic in March with five holes to play, and then limped around to a final-round 78 at Doral, where he didn't make a single birdie.

It turned out to be his last competitive round until June, with surgery causing him to miss two major championships.

And yet, there is a considerable faction of observers out there who think he packed it in because he was playing poorly, not injured.

Did anyone ever consider that perhaps he was playing poorly because he was injured? Or that the last thing he wanted to do was miss more tournament golf?

Anyone who has been around Woods for any length of time is well aware of his competitive nature and how mailing it in is not part of his deal. The fact that he shot just one round in the 80s in his pro career is proof -- and that was in a wind and rain storm in Scotland.

Given that Woods is desperately trying to find some kind of form these days, the last thing he wanted to do Sunday is walk out on a tournament when it was so close to the end -- unless he had no choice.

Sunday looked bad, as Woods was so overcome that he could barely get into his courtesy car.

And there he was Wednesday, ending all the speculation by not only showing up just after 1 p.m. ET, but taking part in a 35-minute practice session followed by a nine-hole practice round and then a walking and putting tour of the back nine.

The fourth major championship of the year is here, and while Woods would not normally want to prepare for the PGA Championship in this manner, he also appeared somewhat perplexed by all the consternation concerning his situation.

Asked if there were any precautions he needed to take heading into the tournament, Woods said: "Of course there is; just don't jump in the bunkers."

And with that Woods went about explaining his latest brush with disaster, the one that sent him hobbling to the parking lot Sunday, most observers fully expecting him to withdraw from a third major this year.

Woods jarred a bone in his back when he fell awkwardly into a bunker, causing severe pain and his back to spasm. Then he had somebody put it back in place, and all was good, as if it was not that big of a deal.

"My physio is here, and if it does go out, he's able to fix it," Woods said after one of the more surreal practice-round settings you'll find, with spectators and media in abundance. "One of those things, again, I still need to build strength, still need to continue to get stronger. Just going to take more time."

For all the drama that came with Woods and his practice round and whether or not he would even be here, the 14-time major champion actually had pretty much decided on Tuesday he was going to play. "My range of motion was good," he said.

And so he flew to Louisville on Wednesday morning, landed just before noon, headed to his accommodations for the week, changed clothes, ate lunch -- and then created a mini-frenzy when he got to Valhalla.

Perhaps the biggest news out of this is that Woods' injury Sunday was not related to the March 31 back surgery that kept him out for three months. Who knows what the situation might be had that been the case?

Instead -- without being privy to any discussions with his doctors or trainers -- this would appear to be an isolated incident that could have occurred to anyone, or even Woods with a good back.

And from Sunday to now, Woods was able to get the proper medical attention to alleviate the pain, followed by rest, therapy and perhaps some good fortune.

No explanation is going to pacify the doubters. They are out there in full force, convinced that one of the game's greats conveniently puts on an act in the name of not posting a score.

Woods is not suddenly healed. Even before Sunday's issues, he was nowhere near full strength. This comeback is going to take time and the struggles at Firestone were clearly a setback. To expect much at Valhalla this week is asking an awful lot.

But Woods is stubborn, sometimes to his own detriment, oblivious to the chatter.

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