For Team Woods at the PNC, the fun surpasses the pain
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Written by Jeff Babineau @JeffBabz62
Charlie Woods throws a dart to yield birdie at PNC Championship
ORLANDO, Fla. – Want to plug 100,000 watts into a 220-volt outlet? Get Tiger Woods on a birdie run. After a slow start to the opening round of the PNC Championship at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Team Woods – Tiger and his 13-year-old son, Charlie – caught some fire, bringing a burst of energy to the year-end event.
The Thomases and Woodses are a close bunch, and the barbs were plentiful across 18 holes. Charlie was wearing a Snoopy hat, so Mike Thomas, the elder statesman in the group and a PGA club professional who has helped to coach Charlie, called him “Snoopy” all day. Charlie had struggled early, but came through big at the par-4 seventh hole when he rolled in a putt from 18 feet. As he walked to the next tee, Justin Thomas saddled up alongside and said, “Welcome to the Father-Son, Charlie.”
It's a family affair all around, with Joe LaCava on Tiger’s bag and his son, Joe Jr., on Charlie’s bag. Jani Thomas, Mike’s wife and Justin’s mom, is caddying for Mike. And hey, Charlie didn’t want to leave out Justin’s caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, in naming who is part of the family. For the players, the needle stays out, constantly.
“Before we even got out here, the texts were flying,” Tiger Woods said.
“On some shots,” Charlie said, “it hurt a lot. Walking was tough ... it was all right. It wasn’t that bad.”
His father, who once won a U.S. Open on a broken leg, can tell his son a little something about pain, having endured multiple back, knee, leg and ankle surgeries just to keep playing. On Saturday, the best pain reliever was the fun the two were having being together on the golf course. The crowd loved it, too. For Tiger, just being here after a year in which he played only nine official rounds always was going to be a bonus.
“It's about us having an opportunity to bond,” Tiger said. “We do this at home all the time, and you know, you guys are now seeing what we do all the time at home. We just have fun. We needle each other. We encourage each other. It goes back and forth.
“It's just an amazing relationship, and it just deepens the bond between father and son."
Like his dad sometimes has to do, Charlie hung in there on Saturday without having his best stuff. Some holes, Charlie would hop on one foot after his drives – he ripped one on the par-4 ninth long enough that his dad never even needed a tee ball – and on others he came up with different swings and followthroughs to help ease the pain. Charlie made his best contribution with the putter,
No worries, especially when your partner happens to be the GOAT. Once Tiger chipped in for eagle from just off the back of the green at the par-5 fifth, Team Woods – or “Team Ice Pack,” as Tiger jokingly referred to them after the round – was off and flying.
Charlie, who joined his dad on the interview stand for the first time Saturday evening, was impressed by his dad’s play.
“I mean, he played great today,” Charlie said. “He had to carry me all day.”
A year ago, Team Woods shot 15-under 57 on Sunday, finishing runner-up to John Daly and his son, John II. In many ways, despite making birdie on only one of their first three holes, this day felt very similar to where they’d left off.
“We just got rolling,” Tiger said. “I had a little bit of a chip-in (for eagle at 5) and all of a sudden a couple putts fell, and we were just trying to give ourselves as many opportunities getting in the fairway, iron shots and putts, and we just got rolling.”
From the par-3 fourth hole, where Tiger made a 30-footer up the hill for birdie, through the par-4 11th, Team Woods played eight holes in 9 under. Team Thomas pulled back ahead with their second eagle of the day at the 14th, and the cushion stayed at two shots when both teams birdied the closing, par-5 18th, where Team Woods missed a long look for eagle.
Two years ago, after Team Thomas won the PNC in their debut, Justin and Mike playfully made their way over to Tiger’s house on Christmas wearing the wide Willie Park belts that are awarded the tournament champions. So one might say there is a little extra motivation for Team Woods on Sunday to try to catch them.