Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning played at The Memorial pro-am and had fun giving each other a hard time while admiring each other's accomplishments. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Dublin, Ohio — While Rocket Mortgage Classic organizers are optimistic Tiger Woods will play at the inaugural event, the fifth-ranked golfer in the world was giving no hints on Wednesday.
Woods was at Muirfield Village, playing in the pro-am for this weekend’s Memorial Tournament. And instead of thinking about where he might be playing a month from now, he was busy having fun with a pro-am partner that drew almost as much attention — former Super Bowl champion quarterback Peyton Manning.
“He just gave me crap the entire time,” Woods joked after the round, “which is par for the course. That’s what we do. We give each other a pretty good needle.”
Manning is the main spokesperson for Nationwide Insurance, which is the title sponsor of the event. But this isn’t the first time the duo has played. Manning said they’ve “played a lot of golf through the years,” including as pro-am partners in 2005 at Bay Hill during the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and in 2009 at the Quail Hollow Championship.
Needless to say, the gallery following the group was deep and were treated to a near hole-in-one from Woods on No. 4 and a birdie from Manning on the 18th.
“Look, to go behind the ropes and to play with this guy on this course and see Jack Nicklaus at the turn, anybody that loves golf, it’s a real thrill,” Manning said. “I’ve played a lot of golf with Tiger all the way through the years. It doesn’t really amaze me much anymore. I’ve seen so many incredible things that you kind of come to expect it. When he makes a par, it’s kind of like you’re surprised.
“He drives it great. And he gave me a great read on 18.”
“It was a great putt,” Woods said.
For Woods, the round was a warm-up for the tournament he’s won five times. However, plenty has changed since he last shook hands with tournament host Nicklaus and hoisted the trophy in 2012. Off-the-course issues combined with injuries had many thinking Woods’ career was over.
But Woods came storming back late last season, winning The Players Championship before capturing his fifth Masters title in April. It was that victory that proved to Woods he was capable of playing at an elite level.
“It validated that I can still do it at the highest level,” Woods said. “Last year at East Lake was a big thing for me to have won in my first year back. I’ve only played five majors now, so that, if I’m able to stay healthy enough to play a sixth major now and stay healthy enough to play more tournaments, it’s about giving myself opportunities.”
His last opportunity to add major No. 16 didn’t go well as he missed the cut at the PGA Championship two weeks ago. His next crack will be at the U.S. Open in two weeks at Pebble Beach, a course where he once won the Open by 15 shots.
He played it last week but said it will be much tougher by the time the full field arrives. If his game smoothed out this week, the next major could come, and he’d be closer to the magic number of 18, the number of majors won by Nicklaus.
Nicklaus believes Woods will have plenty of chances to break his record and as long as he stays healthy, Nicklaus thinks Woods will get it done.
“I've always felt like Tiger, before he won at Augusta, he has four championships (to reach 18) and he has another 10 years of major championships,” Nicklaus said. "Another 40 major championships in front of him that he'll be playing.
“Who knows how long his body is going to stay together. You've had as many operations as he's had, he may be solid enough that it's all right. And if he is, I think he probably will break my record.”
Woods is after another record, too. His next victory, major or not, will give him 82, tying him with Sam Snead for most PGA Tour victories.
If it doesn’t happen this week or at the U.S. Open, could it be in play in Detroit? Perhaps, but that decision likely won’t come until the Friday before the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
In the meantime, Woods is focused on bouncing back from his missed cut at the PGA.
“I feel a lot better,” he said. “I just need to play a little more now and hopefully it will be four solid days this week heading into the Open.”