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Tiger Woods returns with moments of old at PNC

6 Min Read


Tiger Woods returns with moments of old at PNC

    Written by Jeff Babineau @JeffBabz62

    Tiger Woods hits first tee shot back in competition

    ORLANDO, Fla. – For Tiger Woods, the game of golf, at least for now, will need to be about moments, and not the sheer sustained brilliance and domination we witnessed during a career that produced 82 PGA TOUR victories and 15 major titles. Consider it the new clime of his new climb.

    One such flash came on the par-5 third hole mid-day Saturday in the first round of the PNC Championship at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. Woods faced 220 yards to a hole cut into the very back of the green and smashed a 4-iron that went up to the heavens, landed near the hole, and trickled out to about 8 feet.

    Woods climbed back into the cart he needs simply to compete this week and shot fellow competitor Justin Thomas a wry smile that his good friend knows only too well. It was one well-struck golf shot, a glimpse of one man’s greatness. Both Tiger and his son, 12-year-old Charlie, would miss the eagle putt, but it did little to dim the inner satisfaction that accompanied such a shot. This was a man who, after a frightening Feb. 23 SUV crash that shattered his right leg, did not know if he would walk again, let alone play golf again. It had been a long, tough year; he was going to enjoy the shots he flushed.

    “He hit a lot of nice iron shots today, really,” Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, said. “The 4-iron at 3, that was a quality golf shot.”

    Usually a tough critic, Tiger managed to enjoy a lot of the golf shots that he hit, and many that Charlie hit, too, be it the good, the bad and the occasional ugly. In describing his day, Woods seemed to use the word “blast” quite frequently. Saturday’s first round of the PNC, a late-season, 36-hole Challenge Season dash where some of the brightest stars in the game play alongside sons and grandchildren – World No. 1 Nelly Korda is even here playing alongside her dad, Petr – served its purpose for Team Woods.

    Tiger and Charlie combined to shoot 10-under 62, three shots off the leading pace posted by 2009 Open Championship winner Stewart Cink and his son and regular PGA TOUR caddie, Reagan. The Thomases, Justin and Mike, defending champions, will start Sunday one shot off the lead after shooting 60.

    “We had a great time,” Woods said. “It was just a blast ,and we had a blast last year on the first day (playing with Team Thomas), it was the same. We had so much fun out there. We had one thing we wanted to do. We wanted to keep a clean card. Last year we made a bogey in each round.”

    Saturday there were no bogeys, just birdies. Ten of them. Team Woods now has teed it up in three rounds at the PNC over 12 months, and each time they’ve returned a 62 in the scramble format. Especially given this year’s circumstances, that score was pretty stout. And considering Charlie Woods is 12 years old.
    “I hit two good shots today -- well, three – that came off exactly how I wanted to, by old numbers (yardages),” Woods said. “But as I explained to you guys down in the Bahamas, I don't have endurance. I haven't played. This is, what, my fourth, fifth round the entire year? I don't have any golf endurance.”

    Woods ripped a 3-wood second shot onto the putting surface at the par-5 14th hole – Charlie had set the table with another good drive – that led to a two-putt birdie, and experienced nice, old-feel sensations at the 216-yard 17th, where he “squeezed” a laser 7-iron that didn’t get to pin high, but made the green. The shot and feel and shape matched up with what he was seeing, which has been a challenge this week considering his swing speed isn’t near what it was pre-crash. His eyes and mind see shots that his battered body cannot yet execute.

    That’s fine. This was about the moments, like that one at the par-4 11th, where Tiger’s drive took a fortuitous bounce and his ball would end up past the one hit by Thomas. (Thomas isn’t short; Saturday, he drove the green at the 363-yard, dogleg seventh.) Earlier in the round, Thomas told Woods that one hole set up perfect for a “low bullet,” but he didn’t dare attempt it, knowing if he didn’t pull it off, Woods might hit one past him. That simply wasn’t allowable.

    “Literally,” Thomas told Woods leaving the tee, “I’d rather hit one out of play than have you hit one past me.” The two players laughed like a pair of fifth-graders.

    Perhaps the most challenging part of Woods’ day was playing out of a cart. A year ago, he got to walk the course next to Charlie, which encouraged constant dialogue. So, Saturday he had to be cognizant of driving slowly enough to keep pace with Charlie, who was walking, in order to promote good team synergy. It helped that Team Woods was with Team Thomas for a second consecutive year. Mike Thomas was struggling with a balky back, but the banter and needling back and forth never suffered. All had playful words for Charlie on the fifth tee after Charlie held the putter waist-high like a sword in his left hand as his 25-footer for birdie dove into the hole at the fourth. It was another great moment.

    Lest we all get ahead of ourselves, let us accept that Woods is a long way from being able to walk an entire golf course, let alone put himself under the physical toll to play it for 18 holes. This format lets him take off shots as Charlie gets drives in play from his forward tees. As Thomas noted, there is a big difference between being “game ready” and “play ready.” But it’s difficult to watch Woods and what he’s done this week and not come away impressed. Gary Player said on Saturday that he bet his grandson $50 two months ago that Woods would play the PNC. And Player, 86, also is convinced Woods isn’t done winning majors. That is how much he believes in him, even if winning again is something on a faraway horizon.

    “I was so impressed by the speed that he had and the shots he was hitting,” said Thomas. “At least from my perspective, it looked like a lot of the moves and everything were there. It just was if anything, a little short, which is probably – naturally, you would think he's not going to hit it as far ... but man, like that 4-iron he hit into (No.) 3 today, that was just ridiculous.”

    It was ridiculous, another nice moment in a day that had its fair share.

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