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Posted April 01, 2018 09:04 pm
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Young pros welcome Tiger Woods' return

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    Young pros welcome Tiger Woods' return
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    Tiger Woods lines up his putt on the third green during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament Sunday, March 18, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Young pros such as Bryson DeChambeau, inspired by Tiger Woods growing up, were disappointed when they came out on the PGA Tour and their hero wasn’t around.

Woods missed all of the 2016 PGA Tour season and played only two rounds in 2017 because of serious back problems. DeChambeau, 24, made the PGA Tour in 2017 and went on to win the John Deere Classic that year.

“When I did kind of get out here a little bit, he was never here and it was a sore disappointment to have him not be here,” DeChambeau said. “Honestly, it was sad.”

Woods is back this year and is playing so well he’s among the Masters Tournament favorites.

DeChambeau was almost paired with Woods in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitation in mid-March, where DeChambeau finished second and Woods tied for fifth.

Two weeks later, he did play with Woods – at Augusta National Golf Club. It happened last week when Woods played two 18-hole practice rounds. DeChambeau played nine holes with him each day.

DeChambeau said he and others who grew up watching Woods win 79 times on the PGA Tour owe him a debt of gratitude. Woods’ play and charisma raised the profile of pro golf and sent purses skyrocketing.

“We all want to play better because he’s there,” DeChambeau said. “We want to show him, hey, this is kind of what you did for all of us. It’s almost like a tribute to him in a sense. I thank him for that.”

Rickie Fowler, who is 29 and a frequent playing partner with Woods when they are at home in Florida, feels the same way.

“He’s had arguably the biggest impact in the game of golf and with what he’s done for getting people involved fan-wise or people into the game,” Fowler said. “You can go into the TV side of it, purse money. It’s amazing to see what he’s done, and let alone his accomplishments on the golf course. The way he played in the early 2000s, the most dominating performances in the game of golf.

“I mean guys like Arnold (Palmer), Jack (Nicklaus), Gary (Player), they kind of set the stage,” he added. “Then we had kind of had (Greg) Norman, (Nick) Faldo and then Tiger came around and took the game to a whole new level. Whether it was – if you look at the media side of it to the TV contracts, the sponsors, how many fans and growing the game of golf, he’s been the biggest needle mover in the game. I don’t think anyone’s really going to come close to what he’s been able to do as far as current time, so it’s attention that he’s acquired and deserves.”

From the way Woods has played this season, DeChambeau said, “I think he’s going to do very well moving forward and he’s going to be a really good contender in the majors this year and just going to be fun to see what happens.”

That first major is this week, and Tiger is the talk of the golf world, just like he was from 1997 to 2013. DeChambeau, whose hard work led him to victories in the 2015 U.S. Amateur and NCAA individual title while at SMU that same year, was watching.

“He really is what pushed me to be a better golfer growing up,” he said. “He’s the reason why we have all as youngsters have become really, really good. We all looked up to him and loved seeing what he did, his fist pumps, his celebrations and the excitement he brought to the game. So for a long time he was the face of the game, and he still is, honestly.”

Patrick Reed, 27, grew up such a Woods fan that he started wearing a red shirt and black pants as his final round colors, just like Woods always does.

“The best player ever to live when I was growing up wore black pants, a red shirt,” said Reed, the former Augusta State standout who has won five times on the PGA Tour in the Tiger colors. “I was growing up watching him, I always thought, you know, it would be cool to wear black and red on Sunday.”

He’s yet to play in a Sunday pairing with Woods in a final round with a title on the line.

“That would be awesome,” Reed said. “I would love to be in a group late on Sunday with him so I can wear red and black again and then we’ll just kind of have a battle to see who plays best.”