Tiger Woods, left, shakes hands with Mackenzie Hughes, from Dundas, on the 18th green during the third round of the Players Championship golf tournament, Saturday, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. - Lynne Sladky , The Associated Press
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Mackenzie Hughes had not felt the jangled nerves and pressure to perform since he won his first PGA Tour event as a rookie 18 months ago. But this was Saturday morning. Breakfast was still being served in the clubhouse. He was 14 shots out of the lead at The Players Championship.
And he was playing with Tiger Woods.
"To be in an environment like that really gets your juices going," the Dundas native said. "It's 90 degrees, but I can assure you I had some goosebumps and shivers at times when you hear some of the roars and you realize, 'I'm playing with Tiger Woods.' It was fun.
Woods made it even more memorable with his best round at the TPC Sawgrass, and his lowest score the end of the 2015 season. Woods opened with eight birdies in 12 holes until his momentum slowed and he settled for a 65.
Hughes, who had missed 12 of 15 cuts this season, overcame a rough start with four straight birdies in the middle of his round and a 68.
Woods might have lost some of his mystique from when he was the dominant player for the better part of a decade. Even so, his effect is strong as ever, especially among younger players who grew up idolizing his golf — and especially when Woods plays as he did Saturday.
Two months ago, Hughes was having lunch at Bay Hill when Woods sat down a few chairs over. The Canadian said nothing. He just listened.
"He was 5 feet from me, but I had no real, valid excuse to say, 'Hey, I'm Mackenzie Hughes.' So I sat there quietly," Hughes said.
He had an excuse Saturday. Both made the cut on the number at 1-under 143. They finished about the same time, and Hughes knew there was a 50-50 chance for them to be paired in the third round. Confirmation came in a text from the tour, and Hughes couldn't wait.
"If you're going to do Saturday early, you might as well do Saturday early with Tiger," he said.