To watch Tiger Woods and his son play golf over the weekend was to feel a kaleidoscope of emotion.
Goodness, it was something to see Tiger back. It was just 10 months ago when his S.U.V. tumbled off the road in suburban Los Angeles. He nearly died. He had to be pried from the overturned wreck of mangled metal with the Jaws of Life. His injuries, including compound fractures in his right leg, were so severe that doctors discussed amputation.
He spent nearly a month in the hospital, and three more laid up in bed.
And yet there he was, golf’s complicated and magnificent lodestar, healthy enough now to grind and grimace through 36 holes at the PNC Championship, a casual soiree of a tournament teaming golfing greats with family members.
For Tiger Woods, that meant pairing with his son, 12-year-old Charlie, who after being put on center stage for the second year running at this tournament is now renowned in the game of golf and far beyond.
All weekend — particularly on Sunday when the duo battled briefly to the top of the leaderboard on the back nine — father and son inspired awe and, dare I say it, trepidation.
We kept one eye on Charlie, noticing every way he mirrored his father. Every hitch, every grimace and smile and stance. Every torquing twist and long follow-through and confident twirl of the iron.
We kept another eye on Tiger, two years removed from winning his 15th and last major championship, the 2019 Masters.
He flashed enough tantalizing glimpses of old form to foreshadow a return one day to truly competitive, high-test golf.
But Tiger Woods, 45, is clearly compromised. For every glimmer of magic in this nationally broadcast event — the orbital drives that nestled upon the greens, the lengthy putts that curved and swept to their targets — came reminders that he is no longer the same.
He often walked with a noticeable limp, favoring his left leg over his right. Sometimes he grimaced and groaned after swinging hard. On drives, he could not push off on his right leg the way he needs. And over the last few holes of the tournament he was on occasion outplayed by Charlie.
But the weekend was not just about the father. For fans, it was also about the son. Because of who Tiger is and how he plays, there is an equal fascination with Charlie, who last December played this tournament as its youngest competitor ever. It was then that the enchantment began. Fans could not get enough of Charlie, Tiger’s mini-me, a then-11-year-old whose technique was pristine — and mirrored his father’s to a T.
This year’s competition offered more of the same. On television, anchors used slow-motion video to analyze and fawn over Charlie’s backswing, his follow-through, his hip turn.
Early in the week, shots of Charlie hitting practice shots on the Orlando Ritz-Carlton course slung across the internet. Casual duffers who have spent the better part of three decades worshiping Tiger now stand in awe of Tiger’s 12-year-old.
What does this portend for Charlie?
Watching him play smack dab in front of the world brought to mind a difficult back story: the well-known tale of Tiger Woods and his father, Earl Woods. The elder Woods eagerly infused his dreams into the life of his son, who grew up before our eyes, making his debut on national television at age 2, hitting balls in front of Bob Hope on “The Mike Douglas Show.”
Before Tiger’s teens were done he was drenched in fame — and saddled with staggering expectations. Tiger would not just be the greatest golfer who ever lived, his father contended in those early, heady days, he would “do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.”
Can it be any surprise that Tiger grew into a man saddled with deep emotional wounds?
When his internal struggles spilled out in the open, it was as ugly as can be: sex scandals, addiction, divorce, a charge of driving under the influence in 2017.
To many, he is and always will be a superhero.
He is also a cautionary tale.
On Sunday, with the tournament on the line, Charlie struck two perfect drives, including a 5-iron on the 17th he placed as beautifully as any shot hit by any of the field’s pros. He followed those irons with a pair of clutch putts, securing two more birdies for Team Woods, giving them 11 birdies in a row.
Tiger’s son relished all of it.
How long can that last? Think of the assumptions of greatness with which Charlie will now have to contend.
He appears to be a wunderkind. But because he is the son of Tiger, and because he has now been thrust before the public because of his golfing skills, the spotlight will begin to burn much hotter.
How will this affect him, not as a golfer but as a human being? Is it possible that Tiger would have better served Charlie by waiting three or four more years to unveil his son to the world?
Time will tell.
Team Woods nearly ended the PNC with a win. They finished two shots back of John Daly and his son, John II, now a freshman on the golf team at the University of Arkansas.
“What a blast it was,” Tiger Woods said, shortly after he and his young and now famous partner finished by making par on the 18th hole. “We just had a blast all day.”
He looked energized, and he smiled that familiar wide smile.
It is the job of parents to carry their children. This weekend, birdie after birdie after surely struck drive, Tiger and Charlie carried each other — and the results were joyous for both. Let’s hope it remains this way.