ORLANDO — Something that bore a faint resemblance to suspense turned up here Sunday afternoon at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, and anyone waking and catching it on TV might have felt amid some sort of golfing fever dream. A leader board had “Woods” and “Daly” perched atop, a thought that could take golf maniacs back to autumn 2005 in San Francisco, speaking of certain kinds of flashbacks.
Participants actually got nervous, somewhat.
“Obviously nervous [at No. 16], but we had the advantage because we were the last group,” said John Daly II, freshman, men’s golf, University of Arkansas, “Wooo Pig Sooie!” on his club covers.
Briefly, this PNC Championship, a mellow, unofficial, two-round occasion featuring two-person teams of major winners with offspring (or major winners with fathers), veered from its overriding theme: the return of Tiger Woods to televised, score-kept golf 10 months after a frightening crash left him with leg bones both broken and shattered.
Woods’s 12-year-old son, Charlie, born so recently that it was just a week after Santonio Holmes’s otherworldly catch in Super Bowl XLIII, also veered Sunday. He went from wow-he’s-so-much-like-Tiger to good-grief-did-you-see-those-irons-on-16-and-17?
The first came from the middle of the fairway, the second from the tee. Both looked like dreams, minus the fever.
Team Daly won, by the way, in a determined sixth try at this thing. The father, 55 and considerably bearded, said, “To be here and win a big tournament like this with my son, nothing can beat it” — and this guy won the 1991 PGA Championship near Indianapolis and the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews. The son said, “It’s just making the move from junior golf to college golf. I have plenty of time. I’m still young.”
They shot 27 under par in the scramble format with birdies on Nos. 16 and 18 that unlocked a tie with Team Woods, which got to 25 under with your everyday 11 straight birdies from No. 7 to No. 17. Both shot closing 57s. “When we made the turn,” Tiger Woods said, “I told Char, I said we’re going to have to at least birdie out or at least make eight out of nine on the back nine to have a chance.” So they “got on a nice heater.” The 15-time major winner concluded: “The goals this week, two things: one, to have fun, and two, no bogeys. And we accomplished both.”
He relished the moment, which came 11 days shy of his 46th birthday, while lamenting its limitations: “The fact that I’m able to have this opportunity this year — even a couple weeks ago we didn’t really know whether or not I would be doing this, but here we are. And we had just the best time ever, and he and I out there — I just wish that ... I could have walked down the fairways with him and been side-by-side with him the entire time like we were last year [rather than riding in a cart]. But I did what I could.”
He found his way through the weekend as he finds his way back. “I think I had a better sense of my feel of what I could do, the shots I could hit,” he said. “... I didn’t really play a whole lot of draws. If I did, they were all short irons. Most of them were just hot cuts or slappy cuts up there, you know, something out there. The hardest part for me was that what I saw distance-wise and what I felt on my last look — I always play by my hands and, my last look, it didn’t match up a lot of times. I was short. And then a few times, I actually hit it solid and I smoked it over a couple greens. I’ve got some work ahead of me.”
He quibbled with Matt Kuchar’s assessment that his swing had returned to PGA Tour level: “I totally disagree. I’m not — I’m not at that level. I can’t compete against these guys right now, no. . . . Obviously when I had my back fusion [surgery in 2017], I didn’t know if I could ever be out here again and do it. This was a totally different deal. This was whether or not I would have a prosthetic or not, and I don’t. So I’m very lucky and very thankful to all of the surgeons and the nurses that have helped me along the line and all my physios.”
He said, “Charlie was out there telling me a couple times yesterday and today, ‘Don’t hit that shot; you know what that does.’ I said, ‘Just worry about your own game.’ ”
As the Dalys finished and posed for a slew of photos, the prevailing sound was a group of fans chanting “Tiger! Tiger!” while Woods wrapped up an interview. A year in which his public appearances often groaned with crutches had yielded, two weekends from its end, to a Sunday in which he appeared in public in his traditional red, dishing out snapshot memories such as one on No. 9.
There, the people gathered around the back of the green, sitting on folding chairs and right down in the pine straw under the pines and the live oaks, waiting for the Woodses. Children fidgeted. Then Tiger Woods stood out there in the middle of the fairway and sent one skyward, and everyone waited and wondered.
Then it plopped down maybe eight feet from the cup, and the audience made a collective Ohhhhhh! — and maybe felt a notch younger.
Moments later, Char sank the putt, of course.
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