The wait was finally over! Two days short of a year and 298 days since his near-fatal car crash and Tiger Woods stood on the first tee of an official tournament.
Just a few minutes over five hours later, Woods and 12-year-old son Charlie, who had nearly chipped-in for eagle on 18, headed to the scorer’s hut with an impressive 10-under-par ‘better ball’ 62. The effort handed Team Woods a share of fifth place, just three adrift of Team Cink of Stewart Cink and son/regular caddy Reagan who combined for a 13-under par 59.
Woods came from the course smiling and clearly proud of his son who, unlike a year earlier, was a lot more ‘colourful’ even to the extent of not holding back when a shot didn’t go the way he wanted it, with Woods first speaking of how much he enjoyed the day.
“Charlie and I had a blast playing together again, playing with the Thomas family, again, we’re extremely close so it was a bunch of fun there, there was a lot of needling going on the entire day”, said Woods. “We’re pulling pranks on each other and giving each other some under-the-breath remarks that I’m glad they didn’t capture.
“We had a great time. It was just a blast and we had a blast last year. In the first year 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. This year we didn’t, our third straight 62 which I think is pretty good. Hopefully tomorrow we get off to a quick start and keep it going”.
While son Charlie virtually walked all 18 holes, not so his father with Woods being confined to his motorised cart for the round but nonetheless, there was no hiding the outpouring from those lucky enough to have purchased tickets for the event.
“Everything was great. Just everything. I wish I could have walked with Charlie and been with him every step like I was last year”, said Woods.
“Physically I’m unable to do that. So I was the guy going out there and getting golf balls, it was off-line or I was off-line, bringing balls back around. It was different trying to drive the cart slower with him and talk to him and make sure we were present and we’re still a team and we’re still doing it together.
“It’s a little bit harder when I’m in a cart moving around a little bit or trying to get through the galleries. The guys are extremely respectful and great. So supportive but again it’s totally different than walking step by step. Unfortunately, it’s a reality that we just can’t experience this year”.
As for how Woods felt following his first full round of competition since contesting the same event a year ago?
“I don’t have it. You know that”, said Woods when asked how competitive he felt he is. “I don’t have the game or the speed or any of that. So I’m just starting to get back into it. Didn’t know if I was going to play in this event a couple weeks ago. I was hoping at the Hero that I was able to hit balls consistently day after day which I was able to do, and now play, that’s now is going to be the hard part, the challenging part.
“I was hoping that Charlie wouldn’t drive it as well as he did today so I didn’t have to hit as many, save me for the short shots and I can still hit short irons and I can still putt. That has not left me. The speed and some of the shots, the longer stuff has”.
As for physical limitations Woods said: “I don’t practice. You can’t practice and after what I’ve been through this year, it’s been a difficult year. So, understanding that I’m not in golf shape. I’m not in practice shape. I’m definitely not in tournament shape.
“You can see J.T. has it. He’s been playing tournaments. He had a chance to win I think in México and he was right there. So, you can see that he still has the feels, hitting all the shapes, all the shots, whatever he wants to do. Hopefully I’ll get to that point again. We’ll see”.
Seeing Woods on the opening tee was hard not to be reminded of the images of his wrecked Genesis SUV that Woods had been driving early on the morning of Tuesday, 23rd February and the words from Woods mouth eight months later on Tuesday 30th November in the Bahamas that doctors were considering amputating his right leg hardly surprised anybody.
But then Woods has surprised the golf world many times including in August 2018 in capturing the Tour Championship and some eight months later in being fitted with a fifth Augusta National members jacket after capturing a 15th major.
Team Woods arrived at the Ritz Carlton course some two hours before their 12.18pm (US time) tee-off but with caddy Joe LaCava clearly not receiving the group text message by turning-up wearing a light blue shirt while Tiger, Charlie, manager Mark Steinberg and team confident Rob McNamara each wearing a pinkish-coloured shirt with black trousers.
Nevermind as it was soon red with Team Woods combining to birdie the first and third holes before young Charlie stole the honours at the par-3 fourth hole, hitting his tee shot some 15-feet right of the hole, and in ‘scramble’ format putting from his place on the green and holing the birdie putt.
There was a nice moment shortly after Charlie split the fairway off the third hole when Justin Thomas and playing with his father Mike in the same last group, grabbed the driver off young Charlie with that mischievous-like look of ‘What’s that club you’re hitting, young Charlie?”.
The incident mirrored the care-free nature not only of the final fourball but the overall laidback nature of the event.
Team Woods then birdied the fifth to be four-under for just five holes but lost ground of their rivals and slip to T12th, just two spots from the bottom of the board, in ending their outward half with four successive pars.
It wasn’t till the ninth hole when Woods chose not to tee-up for a first time in the event given Charlie again found a fairway.
The pair got off the par train with a run of five birdies from the 10th to 15th holes and with Charlie again splitting the fairway including a drive off the 15th that had former Tour pro and now NBC Golf analysist, Peter Jacobsen singing his praises.
“I’m telling you Notah (Begay and fellow commentator), I would put Charlie’s swing technically up there with anybody in the world right now. It just looks so good”, said Jacobsen.
“That’s against anybody, much less a 12-year-old”.
There was a grimace of pain on his face after Woods bent down to pick-up his tee following his tee shot on 16 but that seemed to be the only sign of any noticeable discomfort.
Team Woods pared the 16 and the 17th before Charlie pulled off a superb chip shot from just off the green, front and right at the last, with his ball just stopping inches from the cup. Dad’s chip went past the hole, so it was Charlie playing the last shot of the day, a birdie ‘4’ to hand the team a combined 10-under-par.
And while Charlie headed straight to the range, it was his father, as he has done so often in his career, left to speak to the media.
The all-Ireland pairing of Padraig and Paddy Harrington battled their way to a best score of a five-under par 67 that left them at the tail of the field. The Harrington’s managed six birdies, including one at the last, but also dropping a shot at the fourth.