The evolution of Tiger Woods was hard to miss this weekend
ORLANDO, Fla. — When Tiger Woods and David Duval gathered on the 1st tee here Sunday, their sons in the vicinity, they tried to figure out how long it’s been since they’ve played together. Fifteen years, Duval guessed. More like 16 or 17, Tiger said. If you’re doing an over/under, take 16. That’s one of Tiger’s skills. He’s like a human timestamp.
Time heals. It changes us, softens us, slows us. It grows you up, if you let it.
How, somebody asked Duval, is Tiger different now than he was circa 2005?
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In 2005, Tiger’s father was alive. Tiger and Elin Nordegren were newlyweds, living in a gated development here called Isleworth. They didn’t have kids. Golf was Tiger’s life. In the four majors that year, Tiger went win (Augusta), second, win (Old Course), T4. As a golfer, Tiger was near the peak of his powers. Duval, Tiger’s Nike stablemate, was past his. He played in all four majors that year and missed each cut. He was a philosophical person then, and he’s only more so now.
“Everybody changes and grows and matures,” Duval said. “Perspective changes. Priorities in life changes. None of us is the same person we were a couple years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago. Tiger’s no different in that than any of us.” He’s just more famous, richer, under more scrutiny — and he’s better at golf.
As Duval spoke, Tiger and his 11-year-old son, Charlie, were in the vicinity, in a staging area beyond the 18th green at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club here, where the two-day PNC Father-Son and Other Interesting Relationships event was wrapping up. The event was Charlie’s coming-out party, the first time he had played in a public golf event.
Charlie’s golf was wonderful — athletic and flowing and untutored — and his manners were exemplary. He had his own caddie — how many 11-year-olds play golf with a caddie? — and he was always appropriate with Joe LaCava the younger. On the 9th tee, he said to him, “Can I have my water bottle?” But he’s no automaton. He gave holy crap to his first-day playing partners, Mike Thomas and his son Justin, whenever the opportunity raised its head.
Charlie and his father shot a pair of 62s, 20-under par, in a scramble format over two days to finish seventh among the 20 teams. An eagle Charlie made on Saturday, on his own ball, meant a $5,000 donation to the Florida Hospital for Children from a tournament sponsor, the Dr. Phillips Charities.
The event was won by Justin Thomas, the No. 3-ranked player in the world, and his father, Mike, a club pro and teaching pro. Justin is 27, but in ways, he seems far older. He and Tiger have become close over the past three or four years. Each calls the other “princess.” Mike doesn’t teach Charlie, but he helps him here and there.
Golf weaves some web, and you could see that everywhere you looked at the Ritz-Carlton course. You could draw a line from this person to that person with ridiculous ease, Kevin Bacon hovering all the while. Mark O’Meara played with son, Shaun. Mark was Tiger’s Tour mentor, early in his Isleworth days, two decades or so ago. Shaun was like Tiger’s kid brother. Now Shaun is a gigantic young man with a long red beard and a sui generis style sense. Who saw that coming?
The Thomas team shot 62-57 — that almost needs to be read twice — and won by a shot over Vijay Singh and his son.
At the Phoenix Open in 2015, Justin Thomas was just starting out, he had never met Tiger, and there was pain in his voice when he considered Tiger’s score on that Friday, 82. Tiger’s life, to be frank about it, was falling apart then. But as Duval says, none of us is the same person now as we were then. We keep at it. And if we don’t, time will do it for us. It’s not falling apart now. By all appearances — and that’s all we really have — Tiger’s in a good place.
Bob Harig of ESPN was the first to make this point: Charlie’s interest in golf is good for Tiger. It keeps him engaged in the game, his own game, as he tries to hang on, and Charlie’s game, as young Charlie tries to get better. The stakes were high this week for Tiger. Live golf, live TV, a private family dynamic on display for all to see. It went beautifully. It really did, right down to the Justin-Mike Thomas win.
As Charlie and Tiger Woods — and Brady and David Duval — were coming up 18, an unlikely sight was unfolding on the cart path on the right side of the fairway: Erica Herman, Tiger’s girlfriend, casually walking up the path alongside Elin Nordegren, chatting about … whatever. At one point, Elin ran her hand through Erica’s hair, as women sometimes do, an old hairdo checkout move that’s been around forever. Erica is close to Charlie and his sister, Sam, who was walking arm-in-arm with her mom. Who saw that coming? Duval, in a manner of speaking. As he notes, none of us is the same now as we were then.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael_Bamberger@Golf.com.