For players wondering what it will be like to play golf with Tiger Woods when he returns, Ben Curtis can speak from experience. It might be a little different.
Curtis, a member at Lake Nona, decided to practice at Isleworth two weeks ago and wound up playing 18 holes with Woods.
“He was a bit rusty,” Curtis said with a grin.
Several players have been asked if it will be awkward to first see Woods on the golf course or to play with him when he returns to golf in two weeks at the Masters, his first competition since revelations of a sex scandal made him tabloid fodder for months.
“Everybody that tells you that it was the same as before would be kidding themselves,” Curtis said Friday after a 67 left him in a tie for the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. “It was obviously a little bit different. When I saw him, no one had actually really seen him in public. It was a little bit different.”
Curtis said he never really spent much time with Woods except for times they were in the same group.
“I didn't know him that well before, anyway,” Curtis said. “But I could see where some of the guys that might have known him pretty well — like Mark O'Meara — it might be a little bit different for them now than it was before. But I don't know. That's hard to say. I try to just treat it as we are just going out there and playing golf and just having some fun.”
Curtis said Woods appeared to be nervous, perhaps because it might have been his first time playing with a PGA Tour colleague. They were joined by Steve Johnson, the swing coach for Curtis and a disciple of Hank Haney, and a friend of Woods that Curtis did not recognize.
He said when he saw Woods a week later, he seemed more relaxed in the company of other players.
Curtis said neither kept score, and their chatter was strictly golf.
Curtis won the British Open in 2003 at Royal St. George's, where Woods finished two shots behind in a tie for fourth. Curtis sank about a 10-foot par putt on the final hole, and was on the practice range waiting for everyone else to finish when he learned he had won.
“He said I made everything, but I only made one putt that one day,” Curtis said. “He seems to think I make everything, but he hasn't seen me putt all year, either.”