Tiger Woods on being an honorary starter with Phil Mickelson: 'I'll be hitting bombs past him'

Jay Busbee
·4-min read
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The Masters may be in November this year, but it’s still the Masters, and that means it’s time to step back and contemplate the vast sweep of time that this course, and this tournament, encompass. It’s the same 18 holes that Bobby Jones and Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus once walked, the same 18 holes that a young Tiger Woods dominated and a much older Tiger Woods did, too.

Woods may not be at the 18th hole of his career, but he’s obviously on the back nine. And every time one of his milestone achievements comes back around — like, say, the Masters — talk turns to legacy, and history, and his place in the game.

This year marks Woods’ 25th anniversary of his first Masters appearance, and he’s still flying high from the last time he was here: a victory that now seems a lifetime ago, way back in April 2019. Of all Woods’ many achievements — his first Masters victory, his dominant U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, his 2008 would-be swan song on one leg — the 2019 Masters has to rank way up there, if only because it’s the only major his kids saw in person.

Tiger Woods always has a fine time at Augusta. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods always has a fine time at Augusta. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“Coming up 18, and knowing that all I have to do is just two putt that little 15-footer, and to see my family there, and my mom and my kids and all of the people that helped support me or were there for me in the tough times,” Woods recalled Tuesday, “I was walking up there trying not to lose it, and still saying, ‘Hey, I've still got to two putt this.’ ”

Woods, in an unusual-for-him moment of honesty, went on: “Then I walked off the back of the green, to see [son] Charlie there, just opened up our arms, it meant a lot to me and still does. It just reminded me so much of me and my dad, and to come full circle like that, it still gets me, you know, a little teary.”

Woods is now at the point in his career where he can swing a wide arc and encompass a huge swath of golf history. Recalling his first time at Augusta in 1995, he remembered, “I got a chance to play on Wednesday with Jack and Arnold, and you know, at the time, I was a little punk college student, and we're playing for some skins, and I didn't have any cash in my pocket, and you know, Arnold makes a putt on 18. Takes all the skins away from us,” Woods remembered with a laugh.

Nicklaus and Palmer then turned to Woods and asked, “Hey, do you want to go play the Par 3 Contest?”

“Well, I'm scheduled to go later,” Woods replied, following the proper tee time rules.

Such rules, however, do not apply to men like Nicklaus and Palmer, and with a “Hey, just follow us,” they invited him to play with them, a coronation unlike any other.

He also revealed the tip he tells amateurs at their first Masters:

“On No. 1, I putted off the green on my first hole,” he explained. “Putted right in the gallery. Played with [José María Olazábal] and chipped it back up and made the putt there, made a hell of a bogey. Then just pumped it right over the top of the bunker on 2 to start my Masters.”

He would, of course, get better.

The subject of Lee Elder, the first Black man to play in the Masters, came up. “He was the one that broke the color barrier here and paved the way for players of color like myself to be able to play this event,” Woods said. “It's ironic that he did it in '75. I was born in '75, and when I won in '97, he was on the back of the green.”

Elder will be part of the trio, along with Nicklaus and Gary Player, teeing off to start the 2021 Masters, and so Woods was asked whether he’d be interested in a similar role 30 years from now.

“That's a long time,” Woods said, and then turned contemplative. “You know, the fact that I had an opportunity to watch Byron Nelson and Sam Snead tee off there, and to see even Jack and Arnold and Gary, and now to have Lee start next year, whether it's Phil and I down the road or whatever it may be, it's up to the Chairman [of Augusta National]. It's an honor; you start off the Masters.”

“Hopefully that will be us one day,” Woods added, and then added an extra jab, “and I'll be hitting bombs past him.”

Woods begins his Masters on the 10th hole at 7:55 a.m. ET on Thursday.


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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