Woods off to solid start at quiet Muirfield Village
July 16, 2020
By Ben Everill , PGATOUR.COM
Tiger Woods’ Round 1 highlights from the Memorial
DUBLIN, Ohio – On the tee, Tiger Woods.
Usually those five words bring with it raucous applause and cheers on the PGA TOUR. The 82-time winner brings the noise unlike any other.
But when those five words were uttered Thursday before Woods went out for his first round at the Memorial Tournament Presented by Nationwide there was a surreal silence.
Playing in his first event on TOUR in five months Woods got his initial taste of COVID-19 pandemic golf that is played sans on-site spectators. The five-time Memorial champion carded a solid 1-under 71 to sit in a tie for 18th on a day where whipping winds and tough conditions made scoring difficult.
It was a praiseworthy round by a legend of the game. But on the first tee … crickets.
That’s not to say no one was watching. In fact around 50 or so media, tournament staff, security guards, police and volunteers were socially distanced around the area. A bunch of them would follow the entire 18 holes.
Other TOUR pros waiting for their tee time on the nearby putting green took a look. But the lack of noise meant a few others didn’t even realize Woods was off and running – something unheard of in pre pandemic times.
There was a concern Woods – who is used to galleries in the thousands – might not be able to muster the same competitive fire without that external boost. But the man himself said otherwise.
“The energy wasn't the same without the fans. That certainly was noticeable, mostly different,” Woods said afterwards. “(But no) I definitely didn't have any issue with (personal) energy and not having the fans' reactions out there. I still felt the same eagerness, edginess, nerviness starting out, and it was good. It was a good feel. I haven't felt this in a while.”
And besides … it wasn’t all silence. Some fans made sure Woods knew they cared from outside the property lines. As he and his group of FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy and two-time PGA TOUR Player of the Year Brooks Koepka walked down the opening hole a few fans on the fence line called out in support.
Up by the green, in their backyard, a family of four stood against their fence to catch a glimpse. Their brown labradoodle rested in the shade, oblivious to the Big Cat walking past, while the two young girls enjoyed their FunDip candy while shouting “Go Tiger” as he coaxed in an opening hole birdie. The father joked to tournament officials about the value of his house going up this week.
The second hole saw a couple standing on step ladders to get a look over the fence line. And a bunch of young children were running along the hole as Woods walked past, desperately trying to get as close as they could and perhaps naively expected the 44-year-old to race them.
A hole later a large group had gathered behind the perimeter fencing and they erupted when Woods hit a superb approach shot that scared the hole for eagle but resulted in a tap in birdie. It was the biggest cheer he received but as the round wore on a scattering of fans were found in houses along the course and also on holes that skirted the property lines.
On the sixth, three teenage boys filmed Woods’ par putt that skirted by the hole and were disappointed it missed. They resolved to still post it to Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok though.
A quartet of young kids on the 11th hole were particularly vocal. They needed to stand on the very top of chairs leant against the fence to see over and three of them had painted their faces in tiger stripes. Brandishing a sign reading “Tiger’s Cub House” they chanted “Go Tiger!” over and over and got a big smile and a wave from Woods.
“Cute, isn’t it,” Woods said further up the hole.
As Woods left the 13th tee box fans yelled, “Thanks for still being here! We will be back for you next year!” from outside the property which produced another Woods smile. So too did the children who had run from a nearby swimming pool, still dripping wet in their swimsuits, to call out to their idol.
Despite all of these efforts the final hole of his round continued to highlight the stark differences from the past.
The natural amphitheater around Muirfield Village’s 18th green would usually be packed tight with fans and the 14-foot birdie Woods made would have sent them into raptures. Instead he settled for a nod and “good putt” from his playing partners before heading off to sign his card.
Tiger Woods makes birdie on No. 18 in Round 1 at the Memorial
“Certainly it's a different feel, one that's a new reality, and we're going to have to get used to it,” Woods said of the vibe he played in.
Atmosphere aside Woods had four birdies and three bogeys in his first start since the Genesis Invitational in February. He found eight of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens while taking 29 putts.
“It felt good. I was a little bit rusty but felt like overall it was a good start. It's been a while since I've played. Got off to almost an ideal start and got a feel for the round early. I just didn't make anything today. I had looks at birdies, but I really didn't make much,” he added.
“I was very pleased the way I drove it, my feel for my irons. I just didn't quite hit the putts hard enough. Most of my putts were dying, didn't quite have enough oomph to it.”
Now the question is whether Woods can shake off any fatigue and front up early Friday to go again with the same energy and perhaps adjust to the greens which are expected to only get faster.
“I've felt good about my training over the last few months, and I've gotten ready for this,” he said.
Adjusting to the silence might take a little longer.