PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Now in his 10th year as a pro, Patton Kizzire has seen a few things. He’s dealt with the pressure of winning in golf’s minor leagues, qualifying for the PGA Tour and winning his first two tournaments.
Kizzire, 31, is the only player who has won twice this season, but of course nothing could quite prepare him for what he faced the past two days at PGA National.
For the first time in his career, he was grouped with Tiger Woods.
“Extremely nervous,” said Kizzire of his opening tee shot Thursday morning at the Honda Classic. “I didn’t feel like I was actually holding the club. It was a rough start. Anytime I’m uncomfortable, I’m learning something. It was a great experience for me.”
Only a few minutes earlier, Kizzire had met Woods for the first time. They shook hands on the 10th tee at PGA National, where the 14-time major champion congratulated him on his two victories this season.
Then after a poor tee shot led to a lost ball, Kizzire went about the business of learning what it is like to play a round of golf with Woods.
It can be a surreal experience, with dozens of media, officials, photographers inside the ropes, not to mention the thousands who line the fairways on each hole and make a commotion every time Woods moves.
The scene became even more boisterous as Woods played well and moved into contention Friday with a 1-over-par 71 that left him four shots back of leaders Luke List and Jamie Lovemark and in a tie for 14th place.
One thing is certain in Woods’ latest comeback from back surgery: The hysteria that surrounds him has hardly died down. In fact, it may be greater now. Rory McIlroy likened it to the “Tiger-mania” days of 20 years ago.
Meanwhile, Kizzire was struggling, likely not helped by the rowdy scene that can throw of an unsuspecting player who is accustomed to calmer conditions.
“It was fun; I enjoyed it, it kind of reminded me of Phoenix; it had that same feel,” Kizzire said of the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, where huge, boisterous crowds make for a challenging atmosphere. “He was great out there. He was cool to me and fun to play with. I enjoy watching him hit some of the shots he does.
“I certainly didn’t perform at the level I needed to. I definitely learned a lot this week. You have to be callous; you have to kind of go through it before you understand what you’re getting into.”
Kizzire shot rounds of 74-78 to miss the cut. The other player in the group, Brandt Snedeker, also missed the cut, shooting a 74-73.
It was just last week when Rory McIlroy commented after the second round of the Genesis Open that Woods is at a disadvantage with all that envelops him during a tournament round.
“I swear, playing in front of all that, he gives up half a shot a day on the field,” McIlroy said. “Like it’s two shots a tournament he has to give to the field because of all that that goes on around. So whether that calms down the more he plays and it doesn’t become such a novelty that he’s back out playing again because it’s tiring. I need a couple Advil. … I’ve got a headache after all that.”
And yet, Woods’ playing partners over the years have likely suffered far worse. Woods is accustomed to the theatrics. He acknowledged that behavior has a chance to get out of hand at times, especially at the 17th hole here, where a daunting tee shot is performed in front of thousands of well-oiled fans right on top of the action.
But Woods has endured it for years. Kizzire was experiencing another level of distraction.
“I was probably more nervous on the first tee that at any point in either one of my wins,” Kizzire said. “It certainly was not the result I was looking for, but it was a good experience playing with Tiger. It’ something you have to do for the first time and I leanred from it. I’ll be better from it and I’m looking forward to trying it again.”