It is intriguing how the current generation is in awe of Woods, but has never seen him at his best.
Albany (The Bahamas): Much like Tiger Woods’ kids, the young and upcoming lot of world golf has only seen the 14-time major winner compete on television or Youtube.
World no. 3 Justin Thomas practised alongside the golfing great in the build-up to the 2017 Hero World Challenge here but ask him what it is to face Tiger in a competition, and he appears clueless.
“I don’t know, I’ve never played with him in a competitive event, so it’s hard to honestly answer that question,” says Thomas.
“I mean, yeah, I have watched him on TV but until you are there and you stand and you watch the golf shots, you hear the sound it makes, you watch the putts, chips, then you really get an idea, but I guess we’ll just wait to have to see.”
It is intriguing how the current generation is in awe of Woods, but has never seen him at his best. On a few occasions they have played with him, they have finished ahead of him and returned with images of Tiger battling pain or dealing with personal issues.
At the Hero World Challenge here, they believe it could be different. Woods, in what is yet another comeback for him, is looking good and playing without pain.
Said defending champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan here on Wednesday, “I am sure Justin or Jordan (Spieth), we haven’t seen his best of golf, but if he gets back to that point every week he will be the favourite and he will win a lot of tournaments. So, I am really excited to see what happens and also to be able to compete and hopefully get better and be right there with him.”
Matsuyama was all of five when Tiger first won a Masters event in 1997.
“His first Masters win in 1997 left a big impression on me. Obviously before school I would turn on the TV and watch and he would always be on. He’s just one of those guys who was always on TV. Obviously to be able to be playing in the same field with him, and I never challenged for a championship or anything with him but hopefully I’ll get that chance down the road,” said Matsuyama.
Similar is the case with the likes of Spieth and Rickie Fowler who are probably “friends” with Woods, but are unknown to the facet that only exists for them in Youtube videos — the man who knew no defeat.
Said Spieth, “Yeah, I think Justin said it really well. Growing up watching him kind of dominate and then idolising and now having gone through similar situations, it makes him underrated, I think, trying to get through how difficult some of the just the mental toughness he had is still underrated even though it’s rated pretty high. It’s rated best ever.
“I certainly hope he becomes healthy enough to get rounds in, to get tournaments in to where he can kind of get back into where he’s competing week in and week out. And if that’s the case, then as long as we stay healthy, imagine paths will cross at some point.”
Adds Race to Dubai 2017 winner Tommy Fleetwood, a first-timer here: “First memories of him, obviously watched him win his first Masters and I am from that generation that grew up watching Tiger Woods be Tiger Woods.
“Never had a conversation really (with him) until yesterday… He told me I had been awesome this year, which is kind of cool. So it was nice to actually meet him in full rather than just saying hi and walking past and doing what you do when you’re at tournament, which is great,” said Fleetwood.