The strict constructionist would say Tiger Woods and 11-year-old son Charlie are in a six-way tie for sixth, four off the lead, after shooting a 10-under-par 62 in the first round of their debut at the PNC Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
Matt Kuchar and his son, Cameron, 13, lead the 20-team field after shooting a 14-under 58.
But how does one measure enjoyment? Because by that metric Charlie, who played from the most forward tees, may just be winning.
With Team Woods playing alongside Team Thomas – Justin a sort of big brother figure to the uber-competitive Charlie, and Justin’s father Mike a longtime PGA professional and Charlie’s occasional coach – fun was going to be baked into the PNC regardless.
Saturday, which brought warmer temperatures, did not disappoint, and what happened at the dogleg-left, par-4 13th hole said it all. With Team Thomas having hit, Charlie, way ahead, uncorked a gem. He walked down the fairway without looking back, and Tiger shrugged and walked off the way-back tee without bothering to hit. How could he top that?
Some PNC employees and friends laughed, and Charlie spun around.
“Like that?” he said.
He marched toward his ball, which had settled short of a greenside bunker, but made a detour to Mike’s ball, which had not drawn enough and found the right fairway bunker. Justin was the first to that ball and bent down to check the lie. “Charlie left you a note,” he said.
They read it. “Draw hole,” Mike said. He and Justin laughed.
“Payback is hell,” Mike said.
The punch line: Mike had been playing in the group ahead of Charlie in the pro-am earlier in the week and when Charlie hit it through everything and into the trees. Mike tore off a piece of paper, wrote Draw hole and placed it under Charlie’s ball.
“In typical Woods fashion,” Justin said, “he kept the piece of paper, and when my dad hit it in the bunker, he took that same exact piece of paper and put it right behind his ball. It was a little bit of karma. It’s just special. The kid’s a gamer, he’s a grinder. He’s competitive.
“But he’s just so young,” Thomas added, checking himself.
Indeed, such is Charlie’s game, such are his Tiger-like mannerisms, that it’s all too easy to get carried away.
“This is the first tournament that I’ve played in that Tiger Woods is playing in that he’s not the star of the show,” Padraig Harrington said. “He should note that himself. And that’s amongst the players and the pros, because we’re all goin’ down that range and everybody’s stopping to watch Charlie. Move out of the way, Tiger. Let us see. It’s incredible the buzz it’s created.”
And for good reason. Charlie eagled the par-5 fifth hole on his own ball. He hit his approach to a foot or two at the par-4 16th hole. Tiger didn’t even bother to tee off on holes 13, 14 or 18. In a scramble format, with Charlie already in perfect position, why bother?
“I knew he was going to wow a lot of people,” said Thomas, who with Mike also shot 62.
Added Tiger, “I’ve seen this all along. Probably not a lot of people have, but a lot of the shots he’s hit I’ve seen back home at the Medalist this entire year, this entire pandemic. He’s hit these shots. The (nine-hole) junior events he’s played in he’s hit a lot of these. It’s just a matter of stringing these out for three and a half hours, which is a totally different deal.”
When Charlie walked in his birdie putt at the ninth hole, Woods said, it wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before.
“He did,” he said when asked if Charlie had carried him. “He hit just some of the most incredible golf shots.”
He paused, then got back on message. The important thing, he said, was that Charlie is enjoying it. He’s doing that in part by applying the needle like his dad. When Thomas double-crossed his tee shot on the first hole, Charlie said, “I thought you were trying to cut it.”
Thomas laughed about the exchange, and said he and Woods spoke mid-round about how much they were pulling for their respective partners, a powerless position their own parents have known all too well. Mike played from tees that made the course feel a little long, Justin said. Charlie, though, seemed to settle into his first televised competitive round like a warm bath.
“I was pulling for him,” Justin said. “I wanted every shot he hit to be the best one that he hit that day. It was a perfect balance of everything; it was competitive, it was joyful, it was memorable, and we had a little banter in there as well.”
PGA Tour Release, Dec 20, 2020