Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas have been picking on each other for a long time. It’s something golf buddies do. If you miss a wedge shot or a three-foot putt, your group will let you know. In December, when Woods turned 47, Thomas wrote a post on Instagram that said, in part, “Happy birthday, old man.”
Even Charlie, Tiger’s son, has joined in on the fun. A few years ago at the PNC Championship, Charlie, who was playing in the team event with his father, left a note for Thomas and his father, Mike, who was playing in the group behind the Woods. Mike’s tee shot went into a fairway bunker in the scramble format. When Justin got to the ball, he saw that Charlie had written “Draw hole” next to it.
In the first round of the Genesis Invitational on Thursday, Tiger Woods and JT were back at it. It was Woods’s first full-field Tour start since the Open Championship in July, and he looked very good. Woods played in a group with Thomas and Rory McIlroy, and his ball speed was so fast that sometimes he drove the ball farther than his long-hitting partners.
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After shooting a two-under 69, Woods said, “It was great to play with these two great guys, two great friends.” “It was a wonderful game. The ups and downs of teasing, encouraging, and telling stories to each other. I hadn’t been out here before, so I missed some of what happened on Tour, which is kind of fun.
Some of the teasing happened after Woods hit a 323-yard drive past both of his partners on the 9th hole. As Woods walked off the tee, he got close to Thomas and sneakily put a tampon in her right hand. He wasn’t sneaky enough, though, because Cliff Hawkins, a senior field photo editor for Getty Images, caught the moment on film. One of these photos was soon shared on Twitter by golf betting expert Rick Gehman. That tweet has now been seen more than 10 million times, and by Friday morning, Woods’s dirty joke was all over the world.
Many social media commenters didn’t see anything wrong with what happened (LOL, just guys being guys, right? ), but others found it not funny, sexist, and offensive. But considering Woods’s status in the golf world, it’s hard not to find the planned stunt strange. What did he mean by that? That JT drives his car like a woman? Even in 1923, that would have been an insensitive message. GOLF.com sent an email to Woods’ manager, Mark Steinberg, asking him to explain the joke. Steinberg did not answer right away. Woods will likely be asked about it after his second round at the Genesis on Friday. He could also not.
You might be thinking, “Wait a second, Woods didn’t want this episode to be shown all over the world.” It was a fun time for the two friends. But here’s the thing: Woods knows that every move he makes inside the ropes, and often outside of them as well, is watched by a police state. He shouldn’t have done that. Again, puzzling.
Woods was one under for the round when he got to the 9th tee, and he had just made a birdie at the 8th. He was smiling and having a good time. His partners were, too. When Woods gave Thomas the tampon, Thomas put it on the ground right away. As Woods and Thomas walked down the fairway, Woods put his arm around Thomas’ shoulder and bent over laughing.
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With the three major winners playing well together (McIlroy shot a 67, Thomas a 68), it was one of those rounds you didn’t want to end. On the back nine, when Woods finished with three birdies (2-4-3 on his card), the mood got even happier. He went from one over to two under in just three holes.
Thomas and McIlroy also made 3s on 18, but Woods’ twister from 7 feet got the biggest cheer from the crowd on the hill behind the green. Woods put his putter back in his bag, looked at Thomas, and gave him a sly smile. Thomas could only shake his head.
After his reaction on 18, Woods said, “I think it’s the group.” “JT shoots one in there, and Rory has been beating us all day. He’s very nervous because he didn’t want to be the one to miss 18. I didn’t want to be the idiot host who just went birdie-birdie and then missed it in front of everyone. We all say these things to each other, but most people don’t hear them. Caddies, however, do hear them, and so do we all.