No signs of rust from Tiger Woods in Wells Fargo practice round with Love family

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No signs of rust from Tiger Woods in Wells Fargo practice round with Love family

PGA Tour

No signs of rust from Tiger Woods in Wells Fargo practice round with Love family

CHARLOTTE – The Tiger Woods show is back and setting up shop for a week-long residency at Quail Hollow.

Woods returned in Charlotte after a standard post-Masters recess and played nine holes Tuesday with Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Dru Love ahead of this week’s Wells Fargo Championship. Woods hasn’t played here since 2012 and this was largely a re-acclimation day for Woods and caddie Joe LaCava, who got a jump start by arriving to Charlotte on Sunday.

Turns out Love kind of set up the whole pairing, something he explained Tuesday afternoon while walking away from the clubhouse, through the player parking lot to the driving range after the round.

“When Tiger committed to the tournament my teacher Jordan Dempsey texted me and said, ‘You should play with Tiger on Tuesday,’” Love said.

“I should get credit,” Dempsey called out from a few paces ahead.

“I just gave you credit,” Love shouted back.

Love’s dad, 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, texted Woods and he immediately replied that he was in.

They recruited Love’s former Alabama teammate Justin Thomas, who won the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, and Love III was supposed to round out the foursome. The elder Love’s back was acting up, so he just walked and talked with the group while Bryson DeChambeau filled in as the fourth.

It was Woods’ first time back in the public eye since that furious lead-up to the first major of the year, during which he evoked memories of the glory days with a T-2 finish at the Valspar Championship and a T-5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Expectations rose higher than they have since his Player of the Year campaign in 2013 and with good reason. He currently ranks sixth on Tour in strokes gained: around the green and eighth in strokes gained: putting.

A T-37 finish at the Masters tempered expectations, and Woods looked burned out by the end of it. Tuesday he appeared loose and rejuvenated, ready for another test on a tough golf course that should definitely reward his uncanny ability to grind out pars.

‘He looked great’

Love said he didn’t see any signs of rust.

“He looked great,” Love said. “His putting looked good and his short game looked incredible, which is no surprise. He drove it better than a lot of people give him credit for. They say he hits wild tee balls, and they were perfect today. He looks good and any time he plays in a tournament he’s got a chance to win. I didn’t see anything that (suggested) he didn’t.”

Woods looked a lot more dialed in with the irons than he did at Augusta National, where his inability to control the shape led to distance issues and a lot of missed opportunities.

Love was 13 or 14 years old the last time he played with Woods, in Scotland alongside Fred Couples. A towering presence easily confused with 6-foot-5 Patton Kizzire from a distance, Love graduated from Alabama last year and is playing on a sponsors exemption this week.

As far as his preparation for the week goes, he did himself a big time favor getting this group together.

“I asked (Thomas) and his caddie a lot (of questions),” Love said. “Will they put a pin here, will they put a tee up or back, what’s the line? Stuff like that. Then basically what I did was ask Justin the questions and then I would follow Tiger around the greens. He would putt from back to front, I would go do the same thing he did right behind him. He would chip from this spot and I would chip right after him. I just followed him around like a puppy dog.”

Love lived on the same floor as Thomas at their college apartment complex in Tuscaloosa and calls him one of his best friends. Woods and DeChambeau have played together several times now, including during a practice round earlier this year on the West Coast and at Augusta the week before the Masters.

All four players and Love III talked and laughed constantly throughout the round. Woods clearly enjoyed being back with the guys ahead of his 7 a.m. tee time for Wednesday’s pro-am when the preparation amps up big time.

Fans on ground at Quail Hollow found their way to the main event pairing when they teed off around 1 p.m. and were able to get close on many of the holes, with galleries not yet swelled the way they will be come Thursday.

For Love, it couldn’t have worked out any better.

“It was really cool to kind of compare my game to his a little bit and see what he was working on,” Love said. “I outdrove Tiger a couple times, so it was cool.”

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