Golf

Woods ready for leap into unknown at fan-free Major

Tiger Woods is preparing for a journey into the unknown as he heads into Thursday’s (Aug 6) PGA Championship hunting for a 16th Major championship against the surreal backdrop of a deserted course at TPC Harding Park.

Throughout his career, the 44-year-old former world No. 1 has become accustomed to roaring galleries following his every shot, providing a jolt of energy that Woods has fed off time and again.

Yet this week’s PGA Championship in San Francisco will be different. Restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic mean that the first Major of 2020 will be a fan-free, muted affair.

Woods got an early taste of his changed environment during a media briefing. Where in the past a scrum of reporters would have attended, on Tuesday only a handful of journalists were present.

“Well, that’s an unknown,” Woods said when asked about how the absence of fans might affect his chances.

“I don’t know if any one in our generation has ever played without fans in a Major championship. It’s going to be very different, but it’s still a Major championship. It’s still the best players in the world. We all understand that going into it, so there’s going to be plenty of energy from the competitive side.

“But as far as the energy outside the ropes, that is an unknown. And hopefully I can put myself in a position where I can feel what it feels like to have no fans and also coming down the stretch with a chance to win.”

Woods’ former caddie, New Zealander Steve Williams, is among those who believe that the lack of fans might prove to be a hindrance.

“With that element missing, for someone who hasn’t played a lot of tournament golf this year, it’ll be challenging for Tiger to find that spark he needs,” Williams said this week.

Woods, who has played once since the PGA Tour resumed in June, experienced new fan-less reality at the Memorial Tournament last month, at Muirfield Village, in Dublin, Ohio. He finished tied for 40th.

“Those four days at Muirfield were a bit different,” he  said.

“It reminded me of sometimes on the weekend, you’d tee off Saturday morning and you’d just barely make the cut, and you’re first off and there’s no one out there. But, generally, by the time you make the back nine, there are thousands of people out there on the golf course waiting for the leaders to tee off.

“But that never happened. So that’s the new world we live in. We just have to get used to it.”

Woods, meanwhile, has one eye on this week’s weather forecast in San Francisco, with the American’s lower back notoriously vulnerable to the cooler temperatures expected.

“When it’s cooler like this, it’s just making sure that my core stays warm, layering up properly,” said the world No. 15.

“I know I won’t have the same range of motion as I would back home in Florida where it’s 35 deg C every day. That’s just the way it is.”

The famous San Francisco fog, which pours in from the Pacific Ocean in the summer, will likely be a bigger factor for the morning groups.

Woods, grouped together with world No. 1 Justin Thomas and world No. 3 Rory McIlroy, is scheduled to tee off on Thursday at 1.58 pm local time, when some of it may have burned off.

The fog, also called marine layer, also keeps the ball from flying as far at the course, which is a challenging 7,251 yard par-70 municipal layout. The course, which underwent a massive renovation in 2002-2003, is famous for its overhanging Cypress trees, narrow fairways and nasty rough, which rewards accuracy off the tee.

“They have pinched in the fairways a little bit and the rough is thick, it’s lush,” said Woods.

“With this marine layer here and the way it’s going to be the rest of the week, the rough is only going to get thicker, so it’s going to put a premium on getting the ball in play.

“I’ve known that from all the years and times I’ve had to qualify up in this area... the weather forecast is supposed to be like this all week – marine layer, cool, windy  and we are all going to have to deal with it.”

Woods, who underwent spinal fusion surgery to rescue his career, said he had spent most of his downtime during the pandemic practising at home.

“I feel good,” he said.

“Obviously I haven’t played much competitively, but I’ve been playing a lot at home. Just trying to get my way back into this part of the season. This is what I’ve been gearing up for. We’ve got a lot of big events starting from here, so looking forward to it. This is going to be a fun test for all of us.”  

Despite the challenging conditions, the four-time PGA Championship winner beamed with confidence when asked whether he can win this week.

“Of course,” Woods said with a smile. – AFP, REUTERS

GolfPGA Championshipmajorsan franciscoRory McIlroyjustin thomas