PORT ST LUCIE, Florida, February 18 – US President Barack Obama played a round with Tiger Woods on Sunday, crowning a buddies golf trip with his long-awaited first match-up with the 14-time major champion.
Obama was spending a long weekend at a luxury resort in Florida and on Saturday took lessons from legendary coach Butch Harmon, before meeting up with the golfing icon for Sunday’s round.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed the game to reporters, saying that Obama had played with US trade representative Ron Kirk, Texan businessman Jim Crane — and the former world number one, Woods.
Harmon told Golf Digest that the interaction between the two was “pretty neat.”
“The President said to Tiger, ‘The last tournament you played was fun to watch. It’s good to see you play well again,’” Harmon was quoted as saying.
Woods left the course after 18 holes while Obama stayed on to play another nine, according to Golf Digest.
Golf World’s Tim Rosaforte, who first reported the match-up, told The Golf Channel that Woods holed out from a bunker for a birdie at the first hole, despite never having seen the Floridian resort course before.
Crane is the owner of the Floridian and of the Houston Astros baseball team, and is hosting Obama for the weekend, Rosaforte said.
Woods previously visited Obama in the White House in 2009.
But Obama, the first African American president, and Woods, the son of a Thai mother and American father who is the first man of African American descent to win the Masters, had never played a round before Sunday.
Currently the world number two behind Rory McIlroy, Woods is taking a break from the PGA Tour but will tee it up next week at the WGC Match Play Championship in Arizona.
That tournament begins a swing of events Woods will use to warm up for the Masters in April, when he will resume his onslaught on Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 professional major tournaments.
Woods began his 2013 campaign with a victory last month at Torrey Pines, his 75th career triumph and record eighth on the course where he won his most recent major title at the 2008 US Open.
But Woods has not won a major since the sex scandal that set back his career, ended his marriage and, combined with injuries, added up to a fallow period for his once untouchable game.
Obama was asked about the scandal in 2010 and said: “I think that Tiger has acknowledged that he betrayed his family and that’s a personal issue that he has got to work out.
“I’m sure he is going to still be a terrific golfer,” he said in a Fox News interview.
Obama was taking advantage of the long President’s Day weekend to hit the links with his friends. It was a boys-only outing, with his wife and daughters off on an annual ski trip in the Rocky Mountains.
An avid golfer, Obama normally plays at Andrews Air Force Base during the summer months in Washington, and rarely plays at private clubs, unless he is on vacation in Hawaii or at Martha’s Vineyard, a resort island in Massachusetts.
But now he has won re-election, he has the luxury of caring less about political attacks on his love for golf, as Republicans frequently complain he should be worrying more about creating jobs than traipsing the links.
Harmon, who coached Woods during one of the hottest streaks of his career from 1994 to 2003, currently works with Phil Mickelson who, like Obama, is a left-hander.
Though he loves the game, Obama rarely mixes business with pleasure, most often playing with low-level staffers in the White House or close friends.
He has played several rounds with ex-president Clinton and once invited House Speaker John Boehner, a fine club player, for a round, though the trip did little to bridge Washington’s partisan divides.
There has long been a connection between golf-mad presidents and the professionals, and frequent good natured match-ups between the US commander-in-chief and golf champions.
Former president Dwight Eisenhower was a member at Augusta National golf club, home to the Masters, and president Bill Clinton once famously hurt his knee after tripping down steps during a weekend with Greg Norman.
The best presidential golfer was reputedly John F. Kennedy, and former presidents George Bush, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush also played the game.