AUGUSTA, Ga. — Justin Thomas began his Masters week in envious fashion, going off the 10th tee at 8 a.m. sharp Monday with Tiger Woods and Fred Couples.
Making his fourth Masters appearance this week, Thomas has completed enough rounds at Augusta National Golf Club to feel comfortable, though the 2017 PGA Tour player of the year is aware that compiling additional bits of local knowledge is always useful. What better partners could you have, then, than two men with a combined five Masters wins? And one of them, the guy with four green jackets, has become a friend now that they both call Jupiter, Fla., home.
It was a pleasant morning. And Tiger was good company. But over their nine holes, the legend gave the kid nothing. Seems that famed competitive Tiger persona remains.
“Tiger probably isn’t as … I’m not trying to be mean, but he isn’t as helpful as Freddy,” Thomas, 25, said with a wry grin after wrapping up a lengthy practice putting session with instructor Matt Killen watching over him. (The same Matt Killen who recently has helped Woods, too.)
“At this point he [Woods] doesn’t quite give as much information,” Thomas continued. “I’ve picked Tiger’s brain enough around this place that he probably has told me everything he is going to tell me.”
Woods, 43, who last won at Augusta in 2005, is making his 22nd Masters appearance this week. Couples, meanwhile, is playing in his 34th Masters. Though he only has the one victory, the 59-year-old has placed in the top 25 on 20 occasions and missed the cut just three times.
“Yeah, I asked Freddy little things about stuff like where he lays up to different pins,” Thomas explained. “But I truly do feel like I’ve played this place enough, and even though it’s only been a couple times, I’ve picked up on things pretty well … and have a good idea where I need to go.”
Winner of the 2017 PGA Championship, Thomas would like to go upwards on the old hand-operated leader boards. Though he has made the cut each time, his best finish is T-17 last year when he closed with a frustrating one-over 73.
Thomas has yet to win a PGA Tour title this season—after eight victories the last two years. His best chance came at the Genesis Open in February, when he led after 54 holes but eventually finished second, getting passed by fellow Kentuckian J.B. Holmes.
Monday’s nine-hole excursion was mostly about shaking things out and having fun with two Masters greats. He’s merely trying to build himself up slowly to Thursday’s opening round.
“It’s getting there,” Thomas said of his game. “It’s probably where I’d want it to be on a Monday. But these couple of days it’s about getting comfortable and getting the speed on the greens down and getting comfortable with the wedges and the short irons.
“The important thing is you want to be able to execute shots come Thursday.”