LOS ANGELES – Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas have seen plenty of each other the past few years.
They were grouped early at the Hero World Challenge, teamed for two matches at the Presidents Cup, and for the third year in a row will play together for the first two rounds of the Genesis Invitational.
Playing with Woods (and in front of his legion of fans) is a unique challenge for Tour pros, but Thomas has handled that stage better than anyone in recent memory. In fact, he has a decisive advantage in head-to-head meetings with Woods, owning a 10-1-3 record against him – the lone loss coming last December in the final round of the Hero, where Thomas double-bogeyed the 72nd hole.
No wonder Woods had so many complimentary things to say about Thomas’ game Tuesday at Riviera.
“JT always wants to win,” Woods said. “He’s highly motivated and extremely competitive and we compete in everything we do together. That’s one of the things that I loved about him – he’s so interested and thirsty for knowledge.”
Ah, but Woods still couldn’t resist a dig at one of his mentees.
Woods was dynamic as a playing captain at the Presidents Cup, never more so than during the opening fourballs match against Joaquin Niemann and Marc Leishman. Woods made six birdies en route to a 4-and-3 victory. Asked afterward what worked so well for the team, Thomas quipped: “Tiger was working so well between the two of us today," later adding: “He really carried me out there.”
And so, in the midst of a glowing answer about how their relationship has “blossomed” over the past few years, Woods added this about their time together at the Presidents Cup: “I carried his ass in Australia.”
A day later, of course, Thomas drained a birdie putt on the 18th hole to lift the team to a 1-up victory in foursomes play, keeping the Americans from getting blown out early. But we digress.
Back to Woods: “We’ve had a great relationship, and we’re going to be extremely competitive come Thursday and Friday.”
That three-ball, along with Steve Stricker (who is making his 500th career Tour start), is part of the featured-group coverage in the first two rounds.