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Column: Tiger Woods playing dual role of player and mentor

LOS ANGELES (AP) Tiger Woods flew to California with Justin Thomas on his plane and had reason to feel older when they landed.

Thomas, the reigning PGA Tour player of the year, is among several players who were getting seriously hooked on golf about the time Woods was winning tournaments at a rate never seen. He had vague recollections of Woods making his PGA Tour debut at Riviera as an amateur and asked for details.

It was 1992. Woods was 16.

That was a full year before Thomas was even born.

”I’m sorry, but that really put things in perspective really fast,” Woods said Tuesday at the Genesis Open.

This is the new world for Woods even as he tries to bring back his old brand of golf.

In his first PGA Tour event after recovering from his fourth back surgery, Woods tied for 23rd on a tough test at Torrey Pines. His play has improved. The bigger difference is Woods appears more content with his place in life. And with golf getting younger and better by the year, the biggest change might be how Woods is perceived.

Is he more of a mentor? Elder statesman?

”Idol?” Thomas suggested.

”I still look at him as what I looked at growing up. It’s just now I can beat him,” Thomas said with a laugh, surely a leftover barb from their flight to Los Angeles. ”Now I’m playing against him and trying to beat him, instead of watching on TV and rooting for him.”

Woods has not won since his five-victory season in 2013, and it was probably longer than that since he had an aura of being unbeatable. He has played only 21 times since the first of his four back surgeries a week before the 2014 Masters.

He was here, and he was gone, and then back again, but never for very long.

During that time away, when even Woods wasn’t sure about his future in golf, he became more accessible to players. He was texting them at the Presidents Cup in South Korea in 2015. He was in their ears as an assistant captain the last two years at the Ryder…

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