DUBLIN, Ohio – On Tuesday morning, during his first appearance at a PGA Tour event in five months, Tiger Woods struck a majestic iron round in a practice round that went to an elevated green floated 250 meters away. As the ball deftly enveloped bunkers that protected the well surface and closed off eight feet from the 15th hole, a person clapped his hands among the handful of security agents, volunteers, and media members who watched Woods.
While the faintest applause pierced the silence at the Muirfield Village Golf Club, home of this week's Memorial Tournament, Woods seemed uncomfortable or shocked. Accustomed to being surrounded by tens of thousands of cheering admirers, even during practice rounds, Woods clumsily turned to his only fan, gave a sheepish wave and smiled.
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that spectators are no longer allowed at PGA Tour events, including practice rounds, a situation that has led to silent, awkward non-celebrations, even as a tournament-clinching final putt falls into the hole. Woods has seen the scenes on TV from afar, but on Tuesday he first got a taste of the changed environment.
He's still trying to adapt.
"I've been there when she throws drinks at the greens and people scream, high-five, people running through bunkers – that's all gone," Woods said to reporters after his practice round. "That is our new reality we are facing."
As Woods spoke, it was as if he remembered something he took for granted and now wished he hadn't.
"It's a very different world here – not to have the distraction, the noise, the excitement, the energy the fans bring," he said. "It's just a quiet and different world. "
Woods added," Very grim. "
He was asked if he remembered the last time he played a competitive round without a match. Crowd present. Maybe at Stanford University?
Woods shook his head slightly, he had none of it and was terrified: "Even a few people followed in college." He then grinned.
It was perfectly reasonable to expect Woods to miss his golf kingdom this year on a five-month tour, but who knew he missed his subjects so much?
Even If Tuesday's track atmosphere was very different at Muirfield, Woods was still happy to be back and he insisted he was much fitter than his last tournament appearance in mid-February when he finished last among the golfers who made the cut at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles. Back then, Woods' surgically repaired back was stiff and slowed his swing. During the TV match May made in Florida, where he and Peyton Manning dueled to face Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady, Woods was constantly looking sharp and powerful.
"I managed to train a lot," Woods said Tuesday. "I have been able to do many things that I had not done for a long time, namely spending a lot of time with my children and being with them.
" Physically I feel that much better than I did then. I was able to train and focus on getting back up to speed and back up to tournament speed.
While the five-month hiatus from elite competition wave was not expected, Woods said he had learned to adapt to such layoffs as they have become a necessity after his many rear reconstructions.
“Unfortunately, in recent years I am used to taking long breaks and having to build my game to a level where it is at home on tour level and playing a few tournaments here and there,” he said. . "This was a forced break for all of us, but I'm excited to start playing again."
Woods is the last American golfer to make it to the top 30 and return to the tour, admitting he was weighing back. (Some top players from other countries have not played in the United States due to mandatory quarantine restrictions.) Ultimately, however, it was the popularity of Woods that played a heavy role in his decision.
"I'm used to playing with a lot of people around me or a lot of people have a direct line with me and that endangers not only myself but my friends and family," he said, adding that he eventually thought it was safer to stay at home in Florida.
"I'm used to so many people being around or even touching me – just going from green to tee," he said. " That's something I looked at and said, "I'm really not quite comfortable with the whole idea. Let's see how it turns out first. & # 39; & # 39;
Now that Woods returns, he returns to something like a second home at the Memorial Tournament, a place where he has won five times and said he was comfortable.
Until maybe he made a really spectacular shot and only one person clapped.