Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning have mastered their second acts

DUBLIN, Ohio — Peyton Manning knows a thing or three about second acts to careers that already were defined by brilliance in Act 1.

Perhaps that’s why Manning and Tiger Woods have gravitated to each other over the years, becoming friends and frequent golfing partners.

The two iconic athletes from their respective sports played together Wednesday in Woods’ arena — the golf course. Specifically, they were paired together in the pro-am of the Memorial, which begins play with Thursday’s opening round at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village.

Manning was quick to note he pumped a big drive off the first tee Wednesday morning and he buried a 20-foot birdie putt on 18.

“It’s all you really need to know,’’ the record-setting former Colts and Broncos quarterback said with a smile. “What happened between 1 and 18 is really not important.’’

What is important is what Manning has seen in Woods, who will try to win Nicklaus’ signature tournament for the sixth time in his career.

Manning played the pro-am with Woods a year ago at the Memorial and didn’t know what to expect from his friend, who was in the throes of his comeback after a fourth back surgery.

It was much the same for Manning some eight years ago when he was trying to create a second act to his NFL career after undergoing four neck surgeries.

There are fascinating parallels with Woods and Manning. Both are 43 years old. Both endured four surgeries and were thought by many — including themselves — to be possibly finished by the betrayal of their respective bodies.

Manning, after leaving Indianapolis for Denver, got to a Super Bowl in the 2013 season and won the Lombardi Trophy in the 2015 season, which he called his last.

Woods, of course, is still on a high from his Masters victory in April, a 15th major championship after going 11 years without winning one.

It all has left Manning both in awe and relating to Woods’ remarkable rise from the ashes.

“I just know how hard he worked, how he had to stop playing for a while,’’ Manning said. “I had to stop throwing at one point because I didn’t like seeing the way I was throwing. So you kind of stop and re-start. And that’s what he did.

“I think the most impressive thing has been how he’s been able to adjust and be adaptive to playing in a new physical state. That’s kind of what I did. To use a baseball analogy, I couldn’t throw the 100 mile per hour fastball anymore, but I could still work the outside edges of the plate, and I could still strike a guy out that way.

“Tiger struck a lot of guys out down there at Augusta a few weeks ago and came home with the win. That, to me, is the most impressive thing — how adaptive he’s been. Just learning to adjust and to play in a different fashion is the real credit to him.’’

Woods called his relationship with Manning “pretty cool for me to be able to play with him throughout the years and to know what he’s gone through, to see what he was able to accomplish after all those surgeries. To walk around greatness like this it’s always fun.’’

Woods is playing this week for the first time since unceremoniously missing the cut at the PGA Championship two weeks ago at Bethpage.

Asked if he feels “refreshed’’ since Bethpage, Woods said, “I do. I feel a lot better. I just need to play a little more now, and hopefully it’ll be four solid days this week heading into the [U.S.] Open [in two weeks].’’

Nicklaus, who greeted Woods and Manning at the turn Wednesday, said Woods’ win at the Masters reinforces his belief that his record of 18 major championships remains in play for Woods.

“You’ve heard me say this: ‘Don’t count him out,’ ’’ Nicklaus said. “Once he sorted himself out mentally, once he believed that he could play again, he would win. I thought he might play really well at Bethpage, although coming off a win as emotional as the Masters was for him, I think it’s understandable that that would happen.

“I don’t think he’s going to let that happen again. I think that was a wake-up call for him, and I expect him to play very well this week. He always plays well here.’’

Nicklaus was a welcome interruption to the two athletes commiserating about their common denominator: learning to excel with their new physical limitations.

“That’s what we’ve talked about for a number of years, because we didn’t quite have what we used to have,’’ Woods said.

In both cases, even without what they “used to have’’ has been good enough to elevate to the excellence of their respective first acts.

A definition of greatness.

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