Woods was still 11 shots back of leader Webb Simpson, who shot a 4-under 68 that stretched his lead to seven shots.
“He was five 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.
In his rookie debut, Hughes was paired in the final two rounds with Phil Mickelson and held his own. Mickelson got him by a shot.
“It was comparable in a way,” Hughes said. “But once we got past a few holes and the crowd started to pick up, it wasn’t even close. The amount of yelling and all the comments ... I don’t know how he does it every day. It makes me appreciate him even more.”
Hughes, from Dundas, Ont., said he tried to putt out once on the sixth hole to avoid the crowds moving, and he missed it. He decided then to just stick to his routine, putt when it was his turn and embrace the fact he had more people watching him than any tournament he has played.
And then he birdied the next four holes, including a 70-foot putt from the front of the green. Even with Woods making six birdies before the turn, that long birdie putt produced the loudest cheer on the front nine. It could be heard all the way over to the other side of the course.
“I got a couple of claps. My wife was cheering for me,” Hughes said. “When I made that putt on No. 8, the crowd woke up. ‘Oh, this guy is playing, too.’ It was cool, and it got me going a little bit. Him playing so well, it was fun.”
It was like that all afternoon. The crowd kept getting larger and louder. Hughes felt as if it were Sunday afternoon.
“It had that vibe, like you were playing for a title, playing to win,” he said. “It had that feel to it, which is crazy for 9 o’clock Saturday morning. But that’s what he does.”