ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — No wonder Tiger Woods jokingly refers to the PNC Championship as the fifth major.
Woods was together with 14-year-old son Charlie on Friday, their swings eerily similar and the encouraging words coming as only Woods can deliver them. They were warming up ahead of the pro-am, hitting flop shots, when Charlie hit one that was … well, let Woods explain.
“We’re ending on that one right there. That was nasty,” Woods said, repeating the second part with an extra word for emphasis.
Woods felt good enough to turn down a golf cart and walk 18 holes in a strong wind during the pro-am, which is not to suggest he is completely on the mend.
“I felt like I was physically fit to do it,” Woods said. “Also, walking is better for my back. I just wanted to keep it loose and keep it going, and we’re having so much it doesn’t really matter.”
Woods chose not to speak to media, wanting to avoid any queries about his place on the PGA Tour board as it negotiates commercial deals with the Saudi backer of LIV Golf — the deadline is about two weeks away — and a private investment group of powerful U.S. sports team owners.
This is the fourth year Woods is playing with Charlie. They were runner-up two years ago and while Woods repeatedly talks about “having a blast,” getting the Willie Park Trophy that goes to the winners would have its own place among some 100 wins worldwide.
“Winning majors is unbelievable and how he’s won his majors,” Justin Thomas said. “But seeing how much he cares about Charlie and having (daughter) Sam out here and him doing that together with Charlie as he’s watching him grow up, it would a very, very different kind of win that doesn’t maybe come with the record books and history.”
The question is how much Charlie, whose high school team won the Class A state championship, carries the load.
He is not the little crumb-snatcher — a term Woods’ father affectionately used for him — that first played in the PNC Championship in 2020 at age 11. He is taller and stronger, with more speed in his swing and plenty of pop.
Charlie has been moved back a set of tees, just one in front of his father. He will be playing The Ritz-Carlton Club at 6,576 yards, the same set of tees used by Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, and Nelly Korda from the LPGA Tour.
“I can’t quite give him as much brief anymore because he’s close to beating me up,” Thomas said. “It’s impressive from a golfer standpoint because he’s still a 14-year-old but maturing in the sense of his golf game, and he’s more willing to learn and he’s open to it all times.
“I’m just glad he keeps moving back tee markers. He’s leading the tournament in inches grown.”
He has a pretty good teacher in his father, even at this stage in his career.
The PNC Championship, which starts Friday, is only the fourth competition this year for Woods. He made the cut but didn’t finish the third round of the Masters, and then had ankle fusion surgery shortly thereafter.
Woods returned sooner than he expected at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas two weeks ago. He finished 18th in the 20-man field, and it was fair to speculate that he was using that to warm up for the big one — the PNC Championship.
“I was able to knock a lot of the rust off there at the Hero,” Woods said. “My hands felt better with control hitting shots. And especially today with the wind blowing as hard as it was, I was able to hit flighted shots nicely, which was not quite as sharp as I wanted to be at Hero.”
The big concern is the weather. The wind was enough to shake trees, and rain is in the forecast over the next two days. Starting times have been moved up. Everyone will be in a cart, as this is run by the PGA Tour Champions.
Woods has caddied for his son — one of those events is what gave him the green light to play in the Bahamas — and watched him develop. He has taught him about the process of deciding how to hit shots, and the kid sounds inquisitive.
“And sometimes he doesn’t see it the way I saw, which is fun,” Woods said.
Part of that relationship is giving Charlie space to figure it out on his own, golf and life, though Woods said he also provides what he called “guardrails.”
“There’s so much of the noise in our lives that people are always trying to get stuff out of us, and my job as a parent is to protect him from a lot of that stuff,” Woods said. “Then again, as a teenager, I want him to try and become his own man at the same time. So it’s a challenge as a parent and to provide that atmosphere for him, to learn, to grow, and have that freedom, meanwhile understanding that there’s so much noise looking into our lives.”
Woods said it was different for him at that age, mainly because there were no phones and cameras at every turn, and no social media.
On the topic of phones came one pet peeve.
“I just don’t like the fact that he stares at his phone all the time,” Woods said.
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