Tiger Woods savors return to Players, round with Phil Mickelson

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 08: Tiger Woods of the United States plays a shot during practice rounds prior to THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 8, 2018 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Tiger Woods savors return to Players, round with Phil Mickelson

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods savors return to Players, round with Phil Mickelson

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — You’ve heard the same refrain every week since Tiger Woods returned to play in 2018:  he’s “thankful,” and it’s “unbelievable” to be playing at all.

Tuesday at the Players Championship, those words sounded more heartfelt. Perhaps since Woods last limped out of here in 2015 at the depths of his back pain misery and was operated on a year ago.

There will come a point when he demands to again play like the golfer who won two Players Championships, among other accomplishments, on his incredible resume. 

For now, he’s taking things at a measured pace.

“I wouldn’t say it’s gravy, but it’s unbelievable,” Woods said. “And I’m just so thankful to be able to have this opportunity again because I didn’t know if I would ever have it. Trust me, I’m fully aware of how special this is for me.”

Beaming, laughing and sounding appreciative for the privilege to tee it up here again, Woods did not come across as a man irritated by a lackluster showing at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship.

Mostly he exuded content and seemed not the least bit worried about a woeful putting exhibition last week.

Rare pairing with Mickelson

Nor did the man who once appeared to loathe everything about Phil Mickelson seem anything but thrilled about getting two rounds with his longtime rival starting at 1:52 p.m. Thursday.

“Geez, we don’t really get paired together,” Woods said. “Normally for most of our careers we were 1 and 2 in the world, and we’re on opposite sides of the draw with exact tee times on the opposite side. We never saw each other, and that’s what the Tour wanted. They wanted to get fans in here on Thursday and then on Friday, so they had one of us in the afternoon either day. But never concurrently together.”

Numbers have varied this week, but when you strip away the majors and events where various rankings were used, just twice have the two been intentionally put in the same pairing.

Woods was asked what he most looks forward to in playing with Mickelson — learning, observing or cultivating ribbing material. 

“The latter for sure,” said a smiling Woods before he turned serious. “But I think our relationship has certainly gotten a lot closer with me being a vice captain the last couple (U.S.) teams and sitting there and having very lengthy conversations with him about things, not just the pairings but just about things in general.”

The banter will be worth watching but so will the dynamics of a group that also includes fellow Players champion Rickie Fowler. Woods is making his 18th professional appearance here in a career that also included a U.S. Amateur win at TPC Sawgrass. 

Other highlights from Woods’ news conference:

On last week’s putting woes and how he plans to adapt to TPC Sawgrass.

“I haven’t played here in a few years, so I want to see some of the changes, but also just get my touch. And I’ll do some more — I did some drills yesterday just to make sure everything was A-OK and everything was fine. But I’ll do probably more legwork tomorrow on my putting than I will today.”

On his friendship with Justin Thomas: 

“I got a chance to know him by him coming over to the house, going out to dinners, just hanging out. He’s just a great kid. His mom and dad are fantastic. And just to have dinner with him to celebrate, and for him to kind of run through the scenarios, the holes, the shots, and I was watching, so I could ask decent questions. But even so, it would be much better to have been on the golf course and seen it and felt it, so he was trying to describe it to me, some of the shots and some of the things that he was trying to do. That’s very special when you’re able to do that, and for him to share with mom and dad like that I think was probably even more special.”

 On ‘wearing Nike pink Thursday?’ (asked by Patrick Reed)’

 “Whatever the Masters champion is wearing, I will wear, I will copy.”

 

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