DUBLIN, Ohio — Tuesday morning, in his first look at a PGA Tour occasion in 5 months, Tiger Woods hit an impressive iron shot throughout a apply spherical that soared towards an elevated inexperienced 250 yards away. When the ball deftly skirted bunkers defending the placing floor and settled eight ft from the 15th gap, one particular person among the many handful of safety officers, volunteers and media members watching Woods clapped his fingers.
Because the faintest attainable applause pierced the stillness on the Muirfield Village Golf Membership, house to this week’s Memorial Match, Woods appeared uncomfortable, or startled. Accustomed to being surrounded by tens of hundreds of cheering admirers, even throughout apply rounds, Woods awkwardly turned to his one fan, provided a sheepish wave and smiled.
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that spectators are no longer allowed at PGA Tour occasions, together with apply rounds, a scenario that has led to quiet, uneasy non-celebrations at the same time as a tournament-clinching closing putt falls into the outlet. Woods has watched the scenes from afar on TV, however on Tuesday he obtained his first style of the modified setting.
He’s nonetheless attempting to regulate.
“I’ve been there after they’re throwing drinks in direction of the greens and folks screaming, high-fiving, folks operating via bunkers — that’s all gone,” Woods stated to reporters after his apply spherical. “That’s our new actuality that we’re going through.”
As Woods spoke, it was as if he was remembering one thing he took as a right and now wished he had not.
“It’s a really completely different world out right here — to not have the distractions, the noise, the thrill, the vitality that the followers deliver,” he stated. “It’s only a silent and completely different world.”
Woods added, “Very stark, actually.”
He was requested if he may bear in mind the final time he had performed a aggressive spherical with out a crowd current. Possibly in school at Stanford?
Woods barely shook his head. He was having none of it, and deadpanned: “Even in school I had a couple of folks following.” He then grinned.
It was completely cheap to anticipate that Woods may miss his golf kingdom throughout a five-month tour layoff this yr, however who knew he missed his topics a lot?
Even when the course environment on Tuesday was solely completely different at Muirfield, Woods was nonetheless glad to be again and insisted he was far more healthy than he was his last tournament appearance in mid-February, when he completed final among the many golfers who made the reduce on the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles. On the time, Woods’s surgically repaired again was stiff and inhibited his swing. By Could’s made-for-TV match in Florida, the place he and Peyton Manning paired to beat Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady head-to-head, Woods appeared each constantly sharp and highly effective.
“I’ve been capable of prepare lots,” Woods stated Tuesday. “I’ve been capable of do lots of issues that I hadn’t finished in a really very long time, which is spend lots of time with my children and be round them.
“Bodily, I really feel so significantly better than I did then. I’ve been capable of prepare and focus on getting again in control and again as much as match velocity.”
Whereas the five-month break from elite aggressive golf was not anticipated, Woods stated he had discovered to adapt to such layoffs since they’ve develop into a necessity after his many again reconstructions.
“Sadly, over the previous couple of years I’ve been used to taking lengthy breaks and having to construct my recreation to a stage the place it’s at a tour stage at house and play a couple of tournaments right here and there,” he stated. “This was a pressured break for all of us, however I’m excited to get again into taking part in once more.”
Woods is the final American golfer ranked within the high 30 to return to the tour, and he admitted he weighed whether or not to come back again sooner. (Some high golfers from different international locations haven’t performed in the USA due to obligatory quarantine restrictions.) However ultimately, it was Woods’s recognition that factored closely in his determination.
“I’m used to taking part in with a lot of folks round me or having a lot of folks have a direct line to me and that places not solely myself at risk however my family and friends,” he stated, including that he in the end felt it was safer to stay at house in Florida.
“I’m used to having so many individuals round me and even contact me — simply going from inexperienced to tee,” he stated. “That’s one thing that I checked out and stated, ‘I’m actually not fairly comfy with that entire concept. Let’s see the way it performs out first.’”
In returning now, Woods comes again to one thing of a second house on the Memorial Match, a spot the place he has gained 5 instances and he stated he felt comfy.
Till, maybe, he hit a really spectacular shot and just one particular person clapped.