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Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy ready to partner at The Match

5 Min Read


Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy ready to partner at The Match

    Written by Jeff Babineau @JeffBabz62

    Speed drone flyover of Pelican Golf Club

    Tiger Woods has partnered with many of his peers in team competitions, ranging from mentors (Mark O’Meara) to college buddies (Notah Begay III) to current superstars (Justin Thomas).

    In the end, no matter the partner, one outcome grades the mission: Just win, baby.

    Perhaps it traces back to Woods' younger days, when he rooted on the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, where late owner Al Davis often repeated that definitive refrain.

    Winning will be first and foremost in mind as Woods greets yet another partner into the fold, maybe the best of them all. Woods and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy will face longtime pals Thomas and Jordan Spieth under the lights Saturday in Capital One’s The Match, seventh edition, to be televised on TNT (6 p.m. ET) and streamed worldwide.

    So, after all these partnerships for Woods, some that worked and others that fell short of expectations, what recipe makes for the most effective?

    “Play well,” Woods said on Wednesday afternoon in a promotional Zoom call, where he and the other Match participants answered questions for a handful of national writers.

    “I’ve had all different types of partners,” Woods said. “I’ve had guys drool on themselves, miss belt loops, (wear) wrong hats, can’t find the golf shoes they’re supposed to wear, wrong color ... and we go out and win golf matches. I really don’t care. They play well, we play well as a team, doesn’t matter what happens. And we go out and put a point on the board for our side.”

    It doesn’t hurt that Woods’ current partner resides on top of the world. Woods has not struck a shot in competition since The Open Championship in July; his partner is coming off an autumn heater, having just won dual season-long titles on the PGA TOUR (FedExCup) and DP World Tour's season-long standings, becoming only the second player in history to capture both in a season. When McIlroy captured THE CJ CUP in South Carolina in October, he ascended to No. 1 for the first time in more than two years.

    Wednesday afternoon, Woods and McIlroy each assessed their partner’s greatest asset. Woods laughed as he noted that McIlroy’s “strength” is that his game really doesn’t have any weaknesses.

    “I can tell you one thing,” Woods said, “I have the No. 1 player on my team, so I’m good.”

    In assessing Woods, McIlroy pointed to Woods’ precise iron play through the years. Bigger picture, though, there certainly is more to the 15-time major champion than that.

    “He’s probably the best iron player that’s ever lived ... probably the best golfer that’s ever lived. Period,” McIlroy said. “I think if he can just get it out in the fairway, and get some looks in the fairway, I think we’re going to have a really good chance.”

    Each player will play his own ball Saturday in The Match, the teams counting their best ball in a match-play format over 12 holes beneath the lights at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida. (Pelican GC hosts an LPGA event each November.)

    Woods has been absent from competition since missing the cut at St. Andrews in July. He made only two other starts in 2022, making the cut at the Masters (47th) and PGA Championship (he made the cut but withdrew after the third round). He had hoped to tee it up in the Hero World Challenge last week in the Bahamas, a tournament that he hosts, but has been dealing with planter fasciitis in his foot, which made it too difficult to walk.

    Woods, who turns 47 on Dec. 30, aims to compete Saturday in The Match, as well as the following week’s PNC Championship in Orlando, where he again will have a highly coveted partner – his 13-year-old son Charlie. In both events, Woods will be allowed to use a cart. Woods, who nearly lost his right leg in a harrowing 2021 SUV crash, said he has been able to play at home at Medalist GC when riding, encountering few limitations. As he looks to 2023, he said, what lies ahead is very much an unknown.

    “I can hit shots,” Woods said. “I just struggle getting from Point A to Point B. ... I’ve got to get this plantar (fasciitis) to heal, and it just takes time. It’s nothing that happens overnight.”

    In addition to the competitive element of The Match, there is a charity angle. Proceeds will be steered toward disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 hurricane that tore through Florida’s west coast and was the state’s deadliest hurricane since 1935.

    Pelican GC co-founders Dan Doyle and son Dan Jr. tried to think of a way they could do something to benefit relief efforts. They have a beautiful golf property, so they made some calls and will host an event with top-flight pros and worldwide reach.

    “The charitable aspect of the event, and of all the Matches, this being the seventh, we all have tried to figure out a way to give to the local area,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, here, it's Hurricane Ian, which devastated the west coast of Florida. Some of the people are without homes, power, loved ones ... this Match, a considerable amount of the charitable dollars will be going there. Personally, I'm giving money to that cause as well.”

    Jordan Spieth jumped in and said the six previous editions of The Match have raised more than $33 million for charity, and perhaps Saturday’s version will break all previous records.

    Certainly, lots of good can come from four good friends playing a dozen holes beneath the lights before a worldwide audience. And for Tiger’s sake, he gets to try out a new partner to see how he fits in, a world No. 1 at that. As blind draws go, that’s a good pull.

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