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Thursday's golf: Tiger Woods to play with 11-year-old Charlie in Father-Son

Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Tiger Woods still has one tournament left this year that might feel as big as any to him.

The PNC Championship announced Thursday that Woods will play with 11-year-old son Charlie in the tournament that has paired major champions with their sons since 1995, the year before the 44-year-old Woods turned pro.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be playing with Charlie in our first official tournament together,” Woods said. “It’s been great watching him progress as a junior golfer, and it will be incredible playing as a team together in the PNC Championship.”

Tiger Woods walks up the 17th fairway during the final round of the Masters golf tournament Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Augusta, Ga.

The PNC Championship is Dec. 19-20 at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando in central Florida.

The most television exposure Charlie received was last year at Augusta National when Woods wrapped his son in his arms after winning the Masters for the fifth time, completing a comeback from four back surgeries. It was his 15th major, but the first his son saw him win.

Woods has caddied for his son in junior events, and one moment that got plenty of attention was the father of another junior trying to capture video of Woods, with Charlie and his smooth swing in the background.

Woods wrapped up his official year with an eventful Sunday in the Masters. He was well out of contention when he took a 10 on the par-3 12th hole, and then followed with five birdies over his last six holes.

The PNC Championship, the brainchild of longtime IMG executive Alastair Johnston, has gone through several iterations over the years to try to keep current with the times.

It allowed Fuzzy Zoeller to play with his daughter, Gretchen, and Arnold Palmer to play with his grandson, Sam Saunders. One year it had Aaron Stewart play with Paul Azinger after the boy’s father, Payne Stewart, died in a plane crash. Annika Sorenstam is playing with her father, Tom.

Added to the field this year is Justin Thomas playing with his father, longtime Kentucky club pro Mike Thomas.

For Johnston, having Woods agree to play took him back to a joke that became reality. They were next-door neighbors in villas at Isleworth when Woods turned pro in 1996 and signed with IMG.

The next year, in his Masters debut as a pro, Woods broke 20 records on his way to a 12-shot victory, a watershed moment in golf on so many levels and the start of the first big wave of Tigermania.

Johnston ran into Woods a few days after that Masters for a different variety of congratulations.

“I had a big grin on my face,” Johnston said. “I said, ‘You’ve just qualified to play in the Father-Son.’ He looked very bemused by the fact.”

It took 23 years, but Woods is playing.

Johnston began dropping hints through people close to Woods a few years ago, and Woods sounded interested. Among the questions Woods had was the age of other children. Johnston said sons of Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer each played at about the same age.

It probably helps that the PNC Championship will not have spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though Johnston figures Woods would not put his son on a public stage unless he felt he could handle it.

The tournament is televised by NBC.

Woods is the biggest draw in golf, and Johnston’s idea for the PNC Championship when it started was to entertain golf fans curious about how the sons of major champions played.

In an interview with GolfTV this summer, Woods spoke about his son’s passion for golf.

“I’m still winning – for now,” Woods said. “He’s starting to get into it. He’s starting to understand how to play. He’s asking me the right questions. I’ve kept it competitive with his par, so it’s been just an absolute blast to go out there and just be with him. It reminds me so much of me and my dad.”

Earl Woods always made sure his son asked him to play, and Woods is taking the same approach with his own son.

“I wanted it at a very, very early age,” Woods said. “I wanted to compete and play in this game. That’s on him – whether he wants it or not.”

Langer, Raymond Floyd and Larry Nelson have won multiple times with different sons. Players must have won a major or The Players Championship, and their partner must not hold a PGA Tour card.

Others in the field include John Daly, Greg Norman, Nick Price, Lee Trevino and Gary Player, with one player still to be announced for the 20-team field. The format is a 36-hole scramble, and the winner gets the Willie Park Trophy.

Until deciding to play in the PNC Championship, it was thought Woods ended the year at the Masters. The Hero World Challenge he hosts in the Bahamas, scheduled for Dec. 3-6, was canceled because of travel issues linked to the pandemic.

PGA Tour

Camilo Villegas made a 10-foot birdie putt on his final hole Thursday for a 6-under 64 and a share of the lead with Matt Wallace in the RSM Classic.

Villegas and Wallace each finished on the Seaside course at Sea Island with big putts. Villegas capped off a bogey-free round on the ninth hole for his lowest score on the PGA Tour in four years. Wallace hit into a hazard on the 18th and saved par with a 30-foot putt.

They were a shot ahead of eight players, a group that included Sea Island resident Patton Kizzire and Robert Streb, who won his only PGA Tour title at Sea Island five years ago. They each had 5-under 67 on the Plantation course, which played about three-quarters of a shot harder.

Villegas was trying to return from a shoulder injury that kept him out all of 2019 when he and wife learned early this year their 2-year-old daughter, Mia, had tumors developing on her brain and spine. She was going through chemotherapy when she died in July.

He’s trying to move on and hang on to memories, and he had one immediately while warming up with his brother, Manny, working as his caddie.

“Got on the range and see a little rainbow out there. I start thinking about Mia and said, ‘Hey, let’s have a good one.’ Nice to have Manny on the bag and yes, it was a good ball-striking round, it was a great putting round. I was pretty free all day.”

Villegas, a 38-year-old from Colombia, is a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, including the last two FedEx Cup playoff events in 2008. He has missed the cut in three of his five events of the new PGA Tour season, which began a little more than a month after his daughter died.

“I can’t change the past and since I can’t change the past, I’ve got to focus on the present,” Villegas said. “It’s not about forgetting because you never forget your daughter. It’s about being in the moment, being in the now and this is my now. It’s not with her, but it is with her at the same time.

“I love playing golf, I love doing what I do. The game of golf has been great to me,” he said. “I happened to have a shoulder injury there for the last couple years that kind of set me back a bit, but I’m excited. I think things are rolling the right way and obviously if I keep doing what I did today, it should be fine.”

LPGA Tour

Women’s British Open winner Sophia Popov left top-ranked playing partner Jin Young Ko and everyone else behind Thursday in the Pelican Women’s Championship.

Popov shot a 6-under 64 in windy conditions to take a two-stroke lead over Ashleigh Buhai, with Ko eight shots behind after a 72 in her first LPGA Tour start of the year.

Popov was the surprise winner at Royal Troon in August.

“I think I’m playing with a different confidence level,” Popov said. “You know, the shots are there. I always had them I felt like. I think mentally I’ve never felt as freed up as I do now. I don’t know if that’s from winning the tournament or just overall just having more fun out here. Having obviously an exemption for the next couple years just frees up the swing a little bit, my mindset, I can be a little bit more aggressive, and I think I just took advantage of that.”

At the tricky Pelican Golf Club, the German birdied the last five holes for a front-nine 29, then cooled off on the back with two birdies and two bogeys – the last on the par-4 18th.

“I felt pretty confident coming into the round,” Popov said. “Honestly, probably didn’t see that many birdies on my front. I thought with the wind the course is playing really tough, and surprised myself a little on that front nine. Tried to keep it going, but think the other nine is definitely tough and so I’m happy with my score.”Buhai birdied three of the last four holes.