Former Baylor School golfer Keith Mitchell now has two very different experiences in head-to-head pairings with Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour.
In the final round of last year's Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, Mitchell buckled against Woods amid the gargantuan gallery that followed the 15-time major champion. Woods was less than two months removed from his fifth Masters triumph and closed with a 3-under-par 69 to earn a top-10 finish, while Mitchell spiraled to a 76 and tied for 48th.
Then came the third round of last weekend's PGA Championship in San Francisco.
"When I was teeing off Saturday morning with Tiger, the nerves felt more like I was in the final group than sitting in the middle of the pack," Mitchell said, "but I think it increased my focus level and helped me concentrate, which helped me play a great round. Without fans, playing with the big names helps get your adrenaline going, because it can otherwise be hard to find energy out there unless you are close to the lead.
"After playing last year with Tiger at the Memorial, that initial shock of playing with him wasn't there, so I was able to focus more on my game instead of being in awe the entire round. It's funny, because a lot of tour players are still starstruck by him, even if they're beating him at times."
Mitchell, the 2019 Honda Classic champion, shot a 2-under 68 last Saturday to top Woods by four strokes. On Sunday, his former Baylor and University of Georgia teammate, Harris English, was paired with world No. 1 Justin Thomas and shot a 66, also prevailing by four shots against one of the sport's elites.
All three Baylor graduates on the PGA Tour — English, Mitchell and Luke List — made the cut at the PGA Championship, marking a first for that trio in a major. English used his strong final round to tie for 19th, while Mitchell tied for 43rd and List tied for 51st.
"I was not aware of that, and I don't see that slowing down any time soon," List said. "Harris is playing some amazing golf, and I know that Keith has been working hard and is close to breaking out again. I hit it great this past week but wasn't great with the putter, unfortunately. I'm excited to get back to some Bermuda greens this week and see some putts go in.
"Hopefully we can all make a run in the playoffs and keep the Baylor run going."
The three former Red Raiders will resume competition Thursday at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, before moving on to next week's start of the FedEx Cup playoffs at The Northern Trust near Boston.
English is 28th in the FedEx Cup standings and is enjoying his best season since 2015, when he reached the 30-player Tour Championship in Atlanta and finished tied for 22nd. He has a whopping 11 top-20 finishes and has earned nearly $2.2 million this season, and it's a season that was cut short three weeks earlier this summer due to his positive COVID-19 test.
Mitchell is 98th in the FedEx Cup standings and List 112th. The top 125 in the standings after this weekend advance to The Northern Trust.
"I've spent a lot of time with Luke and Harris on the road recently since our season restarted, and it's not surprising after the practice rounds and range sessions and just the overall demeanor they've been showing that we all made the cut last week," Mitchell said. "I wish we all had a better weekend showing, but it's still an awesome accomplishment having the three of us make the cut in a major championship.
"Harris is having one of his best seasons in a few years, and you can see his confidence really starting to show. Luke is one of the best ball strikers on tour, and he is hard to beat when his game is full circle. My game is starting to come into form for the FedEx Cup playoffs, and I'm really trying to make a late push to play in the Tour Championship."
Mitchell's greatest professional accomplishment may have transpired at last year's Honda Classic, when he sunk a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to stun Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka by a stroke. Yet last Saturday's performance with Woods wasn't too shabby, either.
After all, not only did Mitchell win the pairing comfortably, but the two were repeatedly spotted walking, talking and laughing together, even as they walked off the 18th green.
"I was never able to play with Tiger when he was dominating the tour, and I've always heard that he was pretty intense back then," Mitchell said. "It's very apparent that he is more open and easy going now. He asked me where I was originally from at one point in the round, and I told him. The first thing that came out of his mouth was, 'The Honors Course?!? Holy (expletive) that place is hard!'
"He could not have been more fun to play with."