WASHINGTON: US PGA Tour player of the year Justin Thomas will have a ringside seat Thursday (Friday in Manila) when Tiger Woods launches his latest comeback at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
The 24-year-old rising star is relishing the opportunity.
“He has 79 (wins) and 14 majors,” Thomas said. “I mean, I’m probably just as excited to watch it as you are.”
“I just get a front row seat to it on Thursday, but I’m also looking forward to trying to kick his ass, to be perfectly honest.”
Thomas won five times on the PGA Tour in the 2016-17 season, nabbing his first major title at the PGA Championship and capturing the FedEx Cup crown.
Woods, meanwhile, spent most of the year recovering from his fourth back surgery, in April.
Last month he pleaded guilty to reckless driving, following his arrest in May when police found him asleep in his car beside the road, and toxicology tests revealed an array of prescription medications in his bloodstream.
Now Woods says he is free of the pain he was trying to conquer with medications, and is “loving life.”
Woods says he doesn’t know just what to expect as he returns to competition for the first time since last February.
But Thomas says it’s natural that the 41-year-old superstar, owner of 14 major titles, still garners so much attention.
“The same reason that when Michael Jordan came back to play basketball,” Thomas said. “When you’re one of the greatest of all time to play your sport and just do things that people can’t and haven’t done before and you just have such a huge fan base,” he said. “There’s nobody that moves the needle like him, even now.”
British Open champion Jordan Spieth says Woods seems “more confident” than he did at this time last year, when he launched what proved to be an abortive return from injury.
“We’re all very interested, as we should be, in how it goes for him this week,” Spieth said, adding that golf’s young guns are hoping Woods will soon find himself among the game’s contenders again.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, the defending champion in the 18-man tournament that benefits Woods’ charitable foundation, would also like a chance to compete against a player he once idolized.
On the eve of the tournament Matsuyama recalled watching Woods during his electrifying first Masters victory in 1997.
“Before school I would turn on the TV and watch and he would always be on,” Matsuyama said. “I never challenged for a championship or anything with him, but hopefully I’ll get that chance down the road.
“Justin and Jordan (and I), we haven’t seen his best golf. But if he gets back to that point, every week he’ll be the favorite and he’ll win a lot of tournaments.”