World number six Justin Thomas is excited to see his friend Tiger Woods tee it up alongside son Charlie at the PNC Championship family tournament this weekend, and Thomas’s dad Mike thinks Woods fans are in for a treat.
“It’s crazy how good he’s hitting it and far he’s hitting it for what he’s been through,” Mike Thomas said of 15-time major champion Woods, who suffered career-threatening leg injuries in a California car crash in February.
Woods has downplayed expectations for the event at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Orlando, Florida, saying he’s playing “as a dad” as he continues to consider how he might fashion a return to tournament golf proper.
But Mike Thomas — a former collegiate golfer and longtime club professional who teamed with Justin to win the event last year — said he’d played a recent round with Woods and found it “impressive where he’s at.”
“He’s got some speed, he’s got some length. Hits a lot of really, really flush shots,” the elder Thomas said after playing in a Thursday pro-am round. “I mean, I was surprised.”
Woods has recently offered some tantalizing glimpses of his progress, posting videos of himself hitting balls on social media and putting in some practice sessions while hosting the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas this month.
This weekend’s low-key outing will be the next step in that progression, Justin Thomas said.
“My excitement level is high just for him being out here and being somewhere other than his house and getting to see a lot of familiar faces,” Justin Thomas said. “And I know spending time with Charlie is a huge deal to him.
“In terms of competing, I think his expectations are very low. But at the same time, he is who he is for a reason, so I’m sure he’ll be pissed off he didn’t play well.”
Woods and Charlie made their debut in the event, which pairs major winners with a family member, last year and the younger Woods stole the show with a first-round eagle, some sharp trash-talking and a swing eerily similar to that of his famous father.
Mike Thomas expects to see more of the same from the 12-year-old this year.
“He’s pretty solid,” he said. “He hasn’t gotten any taller. He’s a little stronger. He hits it very far for his size.”
While Woods fans and golf pundits will be scrutinizing the superstar’s game for signs he might be ready to resume his pursuit of more major glory, Justin Thomas said it was more about fun and family.
“It’s the same thing for all of us,” he said. “I’m here to spend time with my dad and Tiger is here to spend time with Charlie. It just so happens we’re playing in a televised tournament.”
But women’s world number one Nelly Korda, who will be playing alongside her father, former Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda, admitted that along with the idea of “creating memories” the idea of “playing right in front of Tiger Woods is pretty cool, too.
“I’m not going to lie,” Korda said. “I’m being a little selfish here, but that’s pretty cool.”