Kuchar and son build 3-shot lead; Woods settles for family affair

Published 4:53 pm Saturday, December 16, 2023

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Tiger Woods has never had a family outing quite like the PNC Championship on Saturday, even in the rain. He was competing with his 14-year-old son, Charlie, and his 16-year-old daughter, Sam, on the bag as caddie for the first time.

The only thing missing were enough birdies.

“It couldn’t have been any more special for us,” Woods said after the first of two rounds at The Ritz-Carlton Club, where they beat the worst of the rain and fell behind 10 other teams.

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Matt Kuchar and his son Cameron led the way with a 15-under 57, building a three-shot lead over the teams of Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh, David Duval and Retief Goosen.

Woods and his son were at 8-under 64, leaning on Charlie’s booming drives even while having to move back a set of tees, with Woods delivering most of the approach shots and neither converting enough birdie chances.

“I drove the ball really good today,” Charlie said. “Didn’t miss a fairway and still managed to shoot 8 under. We just suck at putting.”

That caused Woods to close his eyes and grin. “That sums it up right there,” he said.

So much attention is on their similarities in their swings and other mannerism, but the needle and the trash talking is not to be overlooked.

Charlie Woods piped a drive on the par-5 fifth hole and waved it goodbye, as Justin Thomas could only watch and smile. The 14-year-old also hit a big drive on the 11th, some 65 yards short of the green, hit wedge to a few feet and turned and shrugged.

The PNC is restricted to 20 teams of major champions from any tour, or The Players Championship winners, and a family member. That’s what got Steve Stricker (three senior major victories this year) into the field for the first time. He played with his youngest daughter, Izzi, because Bobbi Maria had Epson Tour status this year.

They also had a 64 while Izzi played with her favorite tour players — Nelly Korda — and now gets Woods and son in the final round.

Kuchar, a Players Championship winner, has played with both his sons. Carson is leaning more toward tennis (Kuchar’s wife played at Georgia Tech) and Cameron is all about golf. He recently took a trip to Europe with the family, caddying for his father in the Dunhill Links Championship and the Andalucia Masters.

“It’s been a fun deal and his progression has just kind of been everywhere,” Kuchar said. “You watch the whole game get better, whether it’s off the tee, he has an advantage with length and irons are great. I think anybody that sees him with a wedge in his hand comes away impressed. He’s got a great short game.”

Singh and Duval are trying to win the PNC Championship for the second time. John Daly and his son, who plays at Arkansas, won it two years ago. They were four shots behind.

Sam Woods mainly plays soccer, and her debut as a caddie went smoothly. All players were in carts that had covers for the clubs when it rained. Woods said his daughter might come out to the backyard at home to watch them practice, but rarely gets to the golf course.

Her mother, Elin, watched from outside the ropes.

Woods is playing for only the second time since having ankle fusion surgery in April, and he’s sticking to his goal of trying to play once a month in 2024, presumably starting at Riviera in February for the Genesis Invitational, where he is the tournament host.

Charlie is at the Benjamin School, which won the Class A state championship this year. That’s one of the few area that he is 1 up on his father — Woods romped over the kids in his age group since he was in elementary school, but was not part of a high school championship team.

“Having a win over him and having something he doesn’t, it feels pretty good,” Charlie said.

This is their fourth time playing in the PNC Championship, their best finish coming two years ago when they were runner-up to Daly and his son. They have seven shots and 10 teams to get past to earn the Willie Park Trophy.

Charlie Woods is playing the course at 6,576 yards, using tees one set up from the tips. It puts him alongside Stricker and Korda, Jim Furyk and John Daly. That was one part of their game that was entertaining. Woods said his son has grown 4 inches, and Charlie said his swing speed has gotten past 120 mph.

As for the putting, that didn’t come around. They have another day to try to figure that out and see if they or anyone else can catch Kuchar and his son.