LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Tiger Woods arrived at Valhalla on Thursday with far less fanfare, and a lot more attention.
The PGA Championship got underway when club pro Brian Norman hit the opening tee shot down the middle. Woods was in the feature group in the morning with Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington. It's rare when Woods and Mickelson are in the same group at a major, though the hype was different this time.
Woods withdrew from a World Golf Championship just four days ago with a back injury. He returned on Wednesday — with live television showing Woods parking his car and tying his golf shoes — and proclaimed he was fit.
Early on, his game still looked rusty.
Starting on the back side, Woods drove his opening shot into the rough and settled for par on the par-5 10th. He was errant again at the par-3 11th, where he missed the green to the right off the tee and failed to sink a 14-footer to save par. More of the same at the par-3 14th, only this time Woods missed the green badly to the right. He chipped on and watched a 15-footer roll past the hole, leaving him with another bogey.
He was 2 over through five holes and already five shots off the lead.
Brendon Todd seized the early lead at 3 under. This is a big week for Todd, who was 12th in the Ryder Cup standings and looking to push his way into an automatic spot at the final qualifying event. The top nine after Sunday will make the team, before captain Tom Watson fills out his roster with three wild-card picks.
Rory McIlroy is the heavy favorite at Valhalla, coming off wins at the British Open and at Firestone. He had an afternoon tee time.
One player who won't be winning: Matt Kuchar, who withdrew just before teeing off because of back spasms.
John Huh took Kuchar's place and joined the threesome with Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose.
While much of the focus was on Woods and McIlroy, the fan favorite was 53-year-old Kenny Perry. He got a special invitation to play in the PGA Championship because, well, this is home.
"I'm just excited for the opportunity to go out the back door one more time, as they say," said Perry, who was raised and still lives in Franklin, Kentucky. "One more time."
Valhalla is a place where Perry has experienced enormous heartache (losing a playoff to Mark Brooks at the 1996 PGA Championship) and exhilarating joy (he was part of the last U.S. team to win the Ryder Cup in 2008).
These days, it feels like a little bit of heaven.
"Being a Kentuckian," he said, "it made me pretty proud."
Perry's career on the PGA Tour was filled with plenty of accomplishments, including 14 victories and two Ryder Cup appearances. But he let two major titles slip through his fingers, including the 2009 Masters when he had a two-stroke lead with two holes to play. At 48, he would've been the oldest player ever to claim a green jacket, but he bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes, then made another in the playoff and lost to Angel Cabrera.
But the one that really stings is that PGA Championship nearly two decades ago.
Perry went to the 72nd hole with a two-stroke lead. All he needed was a par on the second-easiest hole on the course.
He made bogey.
It took a while to get over that one.
"I always think about the 18th hole," Perry said. "It's a par-5 that's very gettable and you can make eagle on it. That's pretty disappointing to have a hole where I struggle to make par on it, much less make an easy birdie."
Perry was playing in the afternoon with Ryan Moore and Henrik Stenson.
He realizes how much different things would've been if he'd just made par on the final hole at Valhalla in '96, if he'd made par on the final hole at Augusta in ';09.
"They were blows in my career," Perry said. "If I would have had those two majors, you could look at my career as a Hall of Fame career. I would have won 16 times with two majors. That probably would have been close to a Hall of Fame career. I mean, Freddie Couples gets in with 15 wins and one major.
"I was that close," Perry added, holding his thumb and index finger about an inch apart, "to getting in the Hall of Fame."
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