Jordan Spieth remembers watching Tiger Woods’ 2005 Masters victory as an 11-year-old. He even called Woods’ famous chip-in at Augusta National’s 16th hole that Sunday “the coolest shot I ever witnessed and probably will ever witness.”
Spieth, now 24, has since gotten to know one of his childhood golf heroes well, mostly through Ryder and Presidents cups. They have played seven PGA Tour rounds together since Spieth turned pro in late 2012, and Spieth has beaten Woods in six of those rounds with an average score of 69 compared to Woods’ 74.29.
In their last common round, Round 2 of the 2015 Phoenix Open, Woods carded an 82 to miss the cut.
No wonder Spieth is excited for this week’s first- and second-round grouping at the Valspar Championship, where the 2015 champ will play with Woods and Henrik Stenson on Thursday and Friday. Woods is a different player than he was in 2015. Finally healthy after an April 2017 back fusion, he is fresh off a solo-12th finish at the Honda Classic two weeks ago and last month tied for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“If you told me five, six years ago I’d have this opportunity I certainly would pounce on it to be able to play with the greatest player in the game and on the rebound and obviously playing some great golf,” Spieth said.
Spieth said he saw a wave of spectators following Woods during a quick nine-hole practice round Tuesday at Innisbrook alongside Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and Davis Love III. Most of them surely weren’t following just because of the 2018 Ryder Cup captain.
“Certainly (Tiger) adds an element to any tournament that he enters and saw it yesterday in the practice round how many people were out there starting to follow those guys,” Spieth said.
At Riviera, Rory McIlroy commented on playing with Woods, saying that the 14-time major winner gives up two shots a round because of the large and distracting galleries that follow him.
“I need a couple Advil just to (get through the round),” McIlroy said. “I’ve got a headache after all that.”
Spieth admits he’s not “totally used to” playing alongside Woods. But he relishes any chance that he can to compete next to one of the greatest golfers of all-time.
“I haven’t seen a whole lot of him the last few years since he’s been hurt and trying to come back, but we all hope for that Sunday afternoon pairing along side all us young guys,” Spieth said. “We want that chance to be able to battle it out with him on Sunday. I know he wants that, too, to kind of show us what he’s done to other people and want to be the person to take him over even if it’s not 2000 Tiger, it’s still Tiger on a Sunday and that’s something that would be an experience that we haven’t had before.”
The closest thing Spieth has come to seeing Woods’ dominance firsthand was a practice round for the 2013 Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village. Before that week Spieth, still in his first year as a pro, didn’t really know Woods at all. On that Wednesday, he and Steve Stricker went out to play a quick modified alternate-shot match against Woods and Matt Kuchar. They were carted to the seventh tee, where they started to get ahead of some other groups on the course. Spieth did make a hole-in-one on the 12th hole, but before that Woods and Kuchar had started eagle, birdie, birdie.
“I remember being unbelievably nervous on that shot and for the most of the shots I hit in the round,” Spieth said. “… (I thought), man, this must have been what it’s been like for the last 20 years for guys.”
Spieth said this Wednesday at Innisbrook: “I’ll feel probably more nervous on the first tee tomorrow than I do on the first tee normally just given the setting.”
Some things never change. Playing alongside Woods is still exciting for his playing competitors.