Why PNC Championship brings out best in Tiger Woods … and son Charlie

ORLANDO – Matt Kuchar stood on the first tee before the final round of the 2021 PNC Championship and beamed with joy as his 15-year-old son Cameron tried to keep from jumping out of his skin at being paired with Tiger Woods and son Charlie.

“My son may be the last of his generation, of his age, to play alongside Tiger Woods,” Kuchar said. “I don’t know many kids younger than 15 that will get to play with Tiger in a competition. It’s pretty cool.”

One year later, Kuchar still marvels at the experience and the broader implications of quality family time.

“Watching Charlie get into the game makes Tiger just look that much more human,” he said. “Seeing the dad side, the pride of watching his son play and play well. Everyone watching at home can relate.”

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When Tiger was running roughshod over the competition, capturing 15 majors and 82 PGA Tours titles and owning the No. 1 ranking seemingly in perpetuity, he never really let us in. He was loved and respected for his otherworldly abilities but never beloved in the way that Arnold Palmer was forever approachable. Tiger always kept everyone at arms-length. That changed as he mounted his comeback from back trouble and got more involved in the team room in international team competitions and forged relationships with the likes of Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy. No doubt, Tiger has been humbled, but nothing has humanized Tiger more than simply seeing him be a dad at the PNC Championship.

“It’s the third straight year he’s played (the PNC). Can you name any other tournament that that’s the case? I don’t know if there is one that he’s played in the last three straight years?” Stewart Cink said. “I mean that says a lot about what this tournament means to all of us playing; that Tiger Woods would play here three consecutive years considering what he’s gone through.”

All eyes again return to Tiger and Charlie this week at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for the two-day 36-hole team event that uses a two-person Scramble format.

“The last couple years have been magical. And to be able to do it again, we’re looking forward to it,” Tiger said.

The pent-up demand to see Tiger is evident in a tournament sell out. Grown men dressed in their red golf shirts and black pants and some even showed up in Tiger onesies. As much as there is intrigue over Tiger’s game, this week he takes a backseat to Charlie. He’s the main attraction. Padraig Harrington said it best when asked whether he would be watching Tiger or Charlie: “Charlie. Charlie. Actually, to be honest, definitely Charlie, Charlie, Charlie…I’m more interested in Charlie.”

So is just about everyone else.

“Nothing wrong with that,” Tiger said. “As long as the people are excited about coming out here and supporting us and supporting all the legends and the people who are in this event, it’s always special.”

This is where Charlie made his first eagle while having his coming out party at age 11. He hit a growth spurt, and the change in his body from a year ago is startling. He shot a career-low 68 at a qualifier for the Notah Begay III Junior National Golf Championship in late September and Tiger recently confirmed that Charlie outdrove him but has yet to beat him. Earlier this week, there was some debate over which tee (and distance) he should play – he’ll be two tees up from his dad at 6,405 yards.

“Is Charlie carrying it 260 or 290?” Shawn Spieth wondered. “Everybody wants to know which one it is.”

Harrington praised his swing.

“Most kids who are good at 11, 12, 13 years of age, their swing hasn’t even come close to developing,” Harrington said. “I bet you if you went back and looked at Rory at 12 years of age, he was hitting a big loopy, drop kick [draw] because that’s what kids do. But Charlie has always managed to pressure the golf ball, which is exceptional at that age. It really is.”

Imagine the pressure to follow in giant footsteps. As if we needed a reminder that he’s still a kid, Charlie wore a Snoopy-logoed hat on Friday. Let’s just enjoy that Charlie loves the game. He has got three top-25 finishes this year on the South Florida Junior Tour and shows promise, but please, no comparisons to Tiger, who already was re-writing the record book in junior golf at this age.

“We didn’t like it,” Tiger said.

When asked what it would mean to win a title with his son, Tiger gave a classic non-answer: “Well, we’ve come close. We’ve gotten better each year. So we’re trending.”

In truth he’d already given the most honest reply when answering a different question on whether he feared setting back his recovery by playing this week.

“You know, I don’t really care about that,” Tiger said. “I think being there with and alongside my son is far more important, and get to have a chance to have this experience with him is far better than my foot being a little creaky.”

Spoken like a father who refused to let his son down.

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