“Crazy how well he hits”

ORLANDO, Fla .– Justin Thomas’ dad got the first glimpse of Tiger Woods playing golf since his car crash 10 months ago, and he’s seen more of it than he expected.

“It’s crazy how well he hits – and he hits far – for what he’s been through,” said Mike Thomas on Thursday at the PNC Championship. “It’s impressive where he is. “

The next step for Woods is to perform in front of an audience.

It’s one thing for the 15-time major champion to play with his 12-year-old son Charlie with Mike Thomas for the ride last week near his home in South Florida. It is quite another to perform in front of thousands of spectators and on network television.

Just 10 months ago, Woods shattered the bones in his right leg, ankle and foot when the SUV he was driving along a twisty suburban road in Los Angeles crashed in a median and down a hill. Woods was immobilized for three months in a makeshift hospital bed in his home.

He went from crutches to slow walking. He was hitting balls at the back of the field in Albany during his Hero World Challenge two weeks ago in the Bahamas.

And although the PNC Championship – 20 teams of parents and children, including a grand champion or winner of the Players’ Championship – is a family affair, the score counts. Woods can drive a cart if he wants to.

“My level of excitement is high just for the fact that he is here and elsewhere than at home and can see a lot of familiar faces,” said Justin Thomas, one of his closest friends on tour. who won the PNC Challenge last year with his longtime pro club dad. “And I know spending time with Charlie is a huge deal for him.

“In terms of competition, I think his expectations are very low,” said Thomas. “But at the same time, it’s who’s for a reason. So I’m sure he will be [ticked] if he didn’t play well.

Woods wasn’t due until Pro-Am Friday.

Among the teams are a pair of major champions – Nelly Korda (PGA Women’s Championship) and her father, Petr (Australian Open tennis 1998). Korda said she hardly ever watches golf except when Woods was playing, and now she will be playing in the squad ahead of him at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club Orlando.

Korda said it would be a chance to make memories with her father, but that’s not all.

“Playing right in front of Tiger Woods is pretty cool too,” she said. “I’m not going to lie. I’m a little selfish here, but it’s pretty cool.

Woods and his son will star in the final group with the duo Thomas, a pair of familiar faces. Thomas was among the next generation of players who often stopped by his house to cheer on Woods when he recovered from a merger in 2017.

Now it is a family affair. Mike Thomas majored in working with juniors when he was at Harmony Landing outside of Louisville, Ky. Although technically not his coach, he was a second set of eyes for Charlie, and the youngster. 12-year-old turned to Justin Thomas.

Thomas, meanwhile, turned to Woods as a mentor. He said that Woods shared many nuances about golf and competition that he didn’t plan to share as he sees it as an advantage. And there’s a lot that Woods doesn’t tell him.

“Because he knows he still loves golf and wants to beat me when we play,” Thomas said with a laugh. “But I think being there as a friend is most important as a mentor, kind of pushing each other along along the way.”

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