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Tiger Woods will play in PGA Championship

Updated: August 6, 2014 8:57PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It all happened so fast. Less than 90 minutes after officials announced that Tiger Woods was at Valhalla, he was hitting balls on the range.

Shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday, he teed off on No. 1 in front of a gallery that might not be much larger if he’s in the final group when the PGA Championship wraps up Sunday.

Playing with frequent Ryder Cup partner Steve Stricker, 2012 Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and Harris English, Woods striped a long drive down the middle of the fairway on the 446-yard first hole, and the crowd roared its approval.

The rest of his nine-hole warmup had its ups and downs, but Woods looks ready to go for his 7:35 a.m. tee time Thursday with Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington.

‘‘I feel pretty good about how I played and the shots I hit,’’ Woods said. ‘‘Played all right. Nothing great. It’s only Wednesday. Pain-free, yes, except for the headache of talking to you guys.’’

It was a quick turn of events for the 14-time major winner, whose ability to play in the tournament had been in doubt. Continuing an injury-riddled stretch in his career, Woods aggravated a back injury Sunday at Firestone in Akron, Ohio, and withdrew midway through his round. He was making only his third tournament appearance since undergoing back surgery March 31.

‘‘Basically, my sacrum went out,’’ Woods said, referring to the bone at the base of the spine. ‘‘Pinched the nerve, hence the spasm. My physio put it back in, and we’ve just been treating it.’’

Woods said the injury was in a different area from where he had surgery but indicated the new problem might be related to cutting back on his workouts while he healed.

‘‘It’s not the site of the surgery,’’ he said. ‘‘This is something totally different.’’

When Woods canceled his pre-tournament news conference Tuesday and failed to arrive at Valhalla, it widely was assumed that he wouldn’t be able to play. But he said his back started feeling better Tuesday.

‘‘He looked like he was in good shape,’’ Stricker said. ‘‘He was powerful and explosive. He hit a lot of great iron shots and drove it pretty good. You wouldn’t know he was hurt last week. He did a lot of good things.’’

Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson again said he would put Woods on his team with a captain’s pick ‘‘if he’s playing well and he’s in good health. [But], obviously, he’s not in great health and he hasn’t played very well. I can’t tell until things happen in the next three or four weeks.’’

Stricker, who was named a Ryder Cup assistant captain Wednesday, said the event is a big motivator for Woods.

‘‘I know how deeply he wants to be a part of the team,’’ Stricker said. ‘‘That’s why he’s here. He wants to get his game going, but [also] he wants to show he can play, that he’s going to get healthy.’’

For Woods, who has battled injuries since his last major victory at the 2008 U.S. Open, being healthy enough to play is one thing. Being sharp enough to be a contender, let alone a champion, is a larger question.

That’s a big reason so many people who follow golf can’t take their eyes off Woods.

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