PALM HARBOR, Fla. — The times have been rare over the years when Tiger Woods has offered praise for or taken inspiration from Phil Mickelson. But there was Woods on Wednesday speaking glowingly of Mickelson’s victory on Sunday at the WGC-Mexico Championship while also finding it as a source of inspiration for himself in his continued comeback from back surgery.
“I thought it was great,” Woods said following his pro-am round at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course, where he begins play in the Valspar Championship on Thursday. “He’s been playing well. I mean he played well at the end of last year and got off a great start this year. He’s been in contention a few times. It was a very, very small margin and what he did on Sunday was very, very cool to watch. It was solid, consistent … big putt at 16 just to tie Justin (Thomas) in the clubhouse.
“He put the pressure on Justin in the playoff, put it right there pin-high and hit a beautiful putt.”
Woods, 42, captured his 79th and most recent PGA Tour win in 2013 just two weeks after Mickelson, 47, won The Open — his last victory prior to Sunday.
And just like Woods has been motivated by the exploits of young players such as Thomas, 24, Rory McIlroy, 28, and Jordan Spieth, 24, he undoubtedly gets some from his longtime rival Mickelson.
“It’s both,” Woods said. “To watch the young guys do what they’re doing, that’s what they’re supposed to do. They come out on tour, established themselves. What Phil is doing is showing us we can still do it later in our careers. Davis (Love) did it at 51 (winning in 2015), Phil at 47. I think Kenny Perry won a handful of events (in his late 40s). So there are guys who can do it late in their career.
“For me, I’m ecstatic to have a chance to play again and have a chance to win golf tournaments and compete. There’s a while there where I didn’t look like I was ever going to be out here again, not in the capacity of a professional player. But here I am playing again and it’s a lot of fun.”
This is the first time for Woods at the Valspar, where he is making his fourth start of 2018 following a tie for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open, a missed cut at the Genesis Open and a 12th two weeks ago at the Honda Classic.
The latter performance and how he felt in the days afterward convinced Woods to add the Valspar event as well as next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. He has played just 10 rounds this year and only 14 in competition since returning from April spinal fusion surgery — which kept him from swinging a club for six months.
“He certainly adds an element to any tournament that he enters and I saw it yesterday in the practice round, how many people were out there starting to follow those guys,” said Spieth, noting Woods’ 9-hole round with Davis Love III, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker. “It was the wave of people walking down (No.) 1, so it will certainly be fun.”
Spieth is paired with Woods and Henrik Stenson for the first two rounds, with their Thursday tee time at 12:46 p.m.