In one of his best tournaments, Tiger finished seventh.
That came at the PNC Championship — the Father-Son, to use its street name — played just before Christmas at a no-rough resort course in Orlando, beside a Ritz-Carlton, the players off in foursomes. So, no: not a major. But some event.
The days were chilly, but Tiger radiated something like warmth. Within his group, over the course of two rounds, everybody was rooting for everybody, and the caddies were right there, too.
Through the needling, there was … love. (You know. Fellas. We speak in tongues: Aw, you hit that too good.) Tiger was playing with his son, Charlie, alongside Mike Thomas, a club pro and golf teacher, and his son, Justin. Caddying for Tiger and Charlie were the Joe LaCavas, père et fils. Mike’s caddie was his wife, Jani.
“The Thomases and the Woodses are like family,” Woods said recently. “JT is like the brother I never had and Charlie is like the little brother that JT never had.”
In the end, Justin and Mike Thomas won, and Charlie and Tiger finished seventh. Elin Nordegren, Tiger’s former wife, was walking with Erica Herman, Tiger’s girlfriend. They stopped short of the 18th green and Elin ran her hand through Erica’s hair. Talk about human connection and the power of time.
Tiger, newly 46 and reinventing his life, is changing. In recent interviews, he has mentioned the pleasure of dinners out with the guys, a staple of Tour life going back to the 1950s, going back to the days of George Bayer and Bob Goalby. Tiger actually made a recent mention of George Bayer, mammoth football-player-turned-golfer. Woods may pine for eras long before his own, but he was never a Morton’s-at-seven guy. In his prime (1996 to 2013), you didn’t see Woods out at night with Notah Begay or Steve Williams or José María Olazábal.
He was never really, in a dying phrase, on tour. He helicoptered in and out. But in South Florida, when they’re all around, the Thomases and the Woodses are like family.
Tiger and Justin are genuinely close, despite the 17 years that separate them. Justin was Tiger’s handpicked playing partner at the 2019 Presidents Cup. They are both represented by the same company, Excel Sports, Mark Steinberg presiding. Justin’s new caddie is Jim “Bones” Mackay, a member of Tiger’s itty-bitty circle of trust. Mike Thomas is Charlie’s instructor. Tiger teaches Charlie how to play a course, but it’s Mike who handles swing technique.
That’s a relative phrase. Mike’s not a technocrat. He’ll say, “This golf swing is a circle. Swing on a circle.” Mike teaches Charlie pretty much the way Butch Harmon taught Tiger. Charlie, who is 13, swings the club beautifully. Tiger’s job is to curb the boy’s temper.