Tiger plays through agony of back injury to show inner drive

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The Independent Online

Tiger Woods produced a four-under-par 68 on the first day of the AmEx World Championship at Mount Juliet, notable more for being completed at all as for the score.

Tiger Woods produced one of the most remarkable rounds of his glittering career yesterday. A four-under-par 68 on the first day of the AmEx World Championship at Mount Juliet was notable more for being completed at all as for the score, which left him two behind Todd Hamilton, the Open champion.

Woods spent the morning having physiotherapy on his back injury and did not know he was going to start until moments before his tee-time.

He flinched violently after his opening drive and was often bent double in pain after shots. Between them he carried his left arm as if it was in a sling.

When time allowed, he got his caddie, Steve Williams, to give him a quick massage. "Stevie said the knots in my back were so big, it felt like I had a sleeve of golf balls down there," Woods said.

Quite why Tiger was putting himself through the pain was unclear but he has won the tournament three times and in each of the last two years, the tournament sponsors are also one of his personal sponsors, and having only won once this season he is running out of time to add another victory.

"I was hoping the back would loosen up and the spasms would go away but neither really happened," Woods said. "What keeps me going? I guess I'm very stubborn. The fewer the shots, the better for me."

Sometimes it looked like the shorter irons hurt more. "Any time I had to hit down into the ground, it hurt more. But whenever my shoulder blades contracted, the shooting pain was unbelievable."

Not being able to thrash at the ball, as he has had a tendency to do this year, may even have helped. But his main assistance came from his putter. He holed from 10 feet at the first, 30 feet at the second, 15 feet at the eighth and, to a huge roar, from 40 feet up the slope at the ninth to be out in 32.

He made two bogeys and dropped two shots on the inward half. "I don't know how it's going to feel tomorrow but hopefully it will get better," he said. "It couldn't be worse."

Tiger's opponents were the last to be surprised by his effort. "He's got a big heart," Hamilton said. "If the guy is hurt, or whether he is healthy and hitting it sideways like he was for a while, he never gives up."

After years of trekking around golfing backwaters, Hamilton is determined to enjoy his moment in the limelight and the chance to win the £665,000 first prize. "I was paying attention two weeks ago," he said. "It looked like the Europeans were having fun. From where I have been, to be playing for this amount of money on really nice courses, that's fun."

A run of four birdies in a row from the 14th was only spoilt by a bogey at the last but Hamilton enjoyed his day on the greens better than the day before, when he had attempted to play Mount Juliet's devilish putting course.

"I got mad," he said. "I couldn't believe you could putt into bunkers and water. I'm used to putt-putt courses with an orange board around each hole. But the greens out there on the main course are spectacular. If you can't putt on those, you can't putt."

Luke Donald, one of Europe's Ryder Cup heroes, also had a run of four birdies in a row as he joined the group at five under which included his two Spanish team-mates, Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Thomas Bjorn, one of the assistants to the Ryder Cup captain, Bernhard Langer, was among those on 68 on his first return to Ireland after walking off the course at the K Club in July with "demons in my head".