By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOUISVILLE Kentucky (Reuters) - The waiting game on whether or not Tiger Woods will compete in this week's PGA Championship entered a new phase on Wednesday when the former world number one arrived at Valhalla Golf Club for an afternoon practice round.
Woods, who withdrew midway through the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio on Sunday due to back spasms, has until his tee time on Thursday morning to register officially for the year's final major.
The 14-times major winner, who has dealt with a string of injuries during his career and had surgery in late March to treat a pinched nerve in his back, has delayed his decision while receiving further medical advice and treatment.
Woods and his caddie, Joe LaCava, arrived at the Valhalla clubhouse car park where a throng of photographers and television cameramen were waiting, one of them calling out: "Tiger, how's the back?" to be met with no response.
Wearing sunglasses and sporting a goatee, Woods got out of the car and changed his shoes before heading off to the practice range where he was joined by his swing coach Sean Foley.
He showed no sign of any discomfort as he warmed up before he set off, in front of huge galleries, from the par-four first in the company of fellow Americans Steve Stricker, Davis Love III and Harris English.
Woods exited the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in obvious pain after hitting his drive on the ninth hole of the final round. He said he had been enduring back spasms since the second hole.
The American had been competing in only his third PGA Tour event since being sidelined for three months after having back surgery, causing him to miss both the Masters in April and the U.S. Open in June.
STUCK ON 14
Woods, who has been stuck on 14 major titles since winning the 2008 U.S. Open in a playoff, has played just seven tournaments worldwide this season with his best result a tie for 25th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
He has withdrawn twice from his six PGA Tour starts and missed the cut in one other.
Prior to the Bridgestone Invitational, the 38-year-old finished 69th at the British Open after closing with a 75 for a six-over-par total of 294.
His appearance at Valhalla on Wednesday afternoon was the latest he has ever arrived before the start of a major championship, but U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson said he was "encouraged" by the former world number one's presence.
"He (Woods) said to me he really wants to make the (U.S.) team in the worst way," Watson told reporters at Valhalla. "This Ryder Cup is a big thing.
"It's a big, big, big event, and these players really want to make the team and bring that Cup back to the United States."
Woods would need to prove to Watson that he is fit enough to be given one of the three wildcard captain's picks for the Sept. 26-28 Ryder Cup against Europe at Gleneagles in Scotland.
"Obviously he's not in great health right now and he hasn't played very well," said Watson. "So the question is, will I pick him? Well, I can't tell until things happen in the next three or four weeks. It's speculation what's going to happen."
Woods is scheduled to tee off in Thursday's opening round at Valhalla along with former winners Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington at 8:35 a.m. ET.
(Editing by Ed Osmond and Frank Pingue)