Tiger Woods inspired young stars who now eclipse the old man
The guy in red and black left his playing partner in his dust Friday at the Hero World Challenge, but in an increasingly familiar scenario, it was the young guy, Patrick Reed, who schooled Tiger Woods at his own game.
Tiger Woods has only himself to blame for the generation of young golfers who watched in awe and sought to emulate the exploits of the former world No. 1 and now regularly beat him at his own game.
Rory McIlroy has chatted at length about how he idolized Woods when he was growing up.
“I’ll never be able to do what he’s done for the game,” McIlroy gushed to Jimmy Fallon during his and Woods’ joint appearance on the Tonight Show earlier this year — before assigning his former hero to the dustbin of history.
“It makes me appreciate how hard he worked, and how dominant a figure he was in our game,” McIlroy, pointedly using the past tense to describe Woods’ career as his Nike stablemate, reduced to playing caddie during the evening’s festivities because of his ailing back, looked on.
And that was several months after hanging a 63 on the scoreboard while playing with Woods in Dubai.
Jordan Spieth was the next Tiger acolyte to take down the old man, shooting his own 63 in the second round at Torrey Pines, while Woods settled for a 71 on a course he used to own to the tune of eight victories.
Rory McIlroy (Dubai), Jordan Spieth (Torrey Pines) and Patrick Reed (Isleworth) have now all carded 63′s playing with Tiger in 2014.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) December 5, 2014
The 24-year-old kid had, in his words after outplaying his former role model, “idolized him, watched him win majors and whatnot,” and found it “exciting to finally be paired with him.”
But as soon as the duo stepped inside the ropes, it was all business.
“Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t intimidated by any means,” said Spieth, who teed it up with Woods for a Presidents Cup practice round. “[He's] very easy to play with.”
And then came Friday at the Hero World Challenge, when Patrick Reed — sporting Woods’ trademark red and black in his first chance to take on the 14-time major winner in competition — left Tiger in his wake with a 9-under 63 to his playing partner’s 70.
Of course, the goals for this week are different for the nearly 39-year-old Woods and everyone else in the the field, including Reed. While the other 17 players are vying for the title at Tiger’s unofficial but prestigious event — and Reed put himself into excellent shape, heading into the weekend at 8-under, just three behind pacesetter Spieth — the tourney host is just hoping to play himself back into competitive shape after a long layoff.
To that end, Woods’ second round was a giant step forward after Thursday’s opening 77. The chipping yips that derailed his first tournament start since August were still in evidence, as he bladed a wedge shot across the eighth green and chunked another chip shot — his fifth in two days — at the 18th, which led to a double-bogey to end his day.
“It’s not very good,” Woods said of the obvious deficiencies in his short game, a result of the modifications he has made to his swing, which looked solid but for an errant drive into the water on the seventh hole. “That’s also part of going through the swing changes. Chip shot is a smaller version, so this is a different pattern than I have been using and it’s showing up. It’s not quite ready yet. Just going to take more time, more practice.”
At least Woods was healthy — sort of. While he has had no issues with his back, he gutted out Friday’s round despite a fever that spiked at 102 and a persistent cough.
“I wasn’t feeling my best,” he said. “I just had to stay hydrated and try to keep things down.”
Woods, who’s bringing up the rear at Isleworth, saw progress in his second competitive 18 holes since he missed the cut at the PGA Championship, a round in which he carded his first eagle of the calendar year by draining a six-foot putt at the par-5 13th.
“It really didn’t feel that much different than it did yesterday,” Woods said, alluding to his opening 77. “I hit maybe two fewer worse shots. I hit it solid. Today I hit it close and made my putts.”
Then there was Reed, who scored five birdies and an eagle on the front nine and had designs on a 59 after a birdie on No. 10. A bogey on 12 dashed those dreams.
As for what once would have been a dream pairing for the brash U.S. Ryder Cup standout, the latest of the new breed raised on Tiger Woods was as undaunted by the legend as his peers.
“Back when everyone was really struggling when they were playing with Tiger, that was when he was also just absolutely dominating the game,” Reed said. “I feel like now, because of how mentally strong he was, and us growing up watching that, and how he played, I feel like a lot of young guys now have the same mentality. Don’t really care who they’re playing with.”