Woods relishes the chance to focus on winning again ‘without people yelling’
American returns to familiar territory for the USPGA buoyed by encouraging changes to his game and no crowd distractions
Tiger Woods has informed Rory McIlroy he does not believe the absence of crowds will be a problem when the pair tee off in the USPGA Championship tomorrow. “As far as energy is concerned, that’ll be the same,” Woods said. “I’m pretty intense when I play, regardless.”
Since the restart, McIlroy has been honest in admitting that he has struggled in the behind-closeddoors arena, as he has failed to record a single top-10 finish in five events. “It’s hard for me to keep focus out here,” McIlroy said. “When there are fans there’s that energy and atmosphere and it’s easy to get into the mindset that you need.”
Of course, if anything should concentrate the mind it is a grouping in the season’s first major with Woods (right), the 15-time major champion. With respect to Justin Thomas, the third member of the match which tees off at 4.33pm UK time at Harding Park in San Francisco, even as the new world No1 it is impossible to create the intimidation factor that Woods brings.
Will this be the same without the circus that Woods normally brings or will it make the scenario seem destructively weird? That is McIlroy and Thomas’s problem. For Woods, after his experience at Memorial two weeks ago, the silence might even be preferable.
“Those four rounds, I was into it and as far as the focus part of it, I didn’t have a problem,” Woods said. “It’s different than normal when you go from green to tee, people yelling and trying to touch you…. Look, nobody in our generation has ever played without fans in a major. It’s going to be very different, but it’s still a major championship, it’s still the best players in the world. So, for me, there’s going to be plenty of energy from the competitive side.”
Therefore, look elsewhere for a reason why Woods will fail to emulate his comeback performance at last year’s Masters and get within two of Jack Nicklaus’s record haul with a recordequalling fifth Wanamaker
Trophy. One should not have to peer too
Here we are in August and while the calendar has been torn to bits, it is still remarkable that this will only be Woods’s fourth competitive event in 2020. When the coronavirus hooter sounded in March, Woods, 44, was in the midst of withdrawing from a run of tournaments with a sore back and, for a man who underwent spinal fusion three years before, that hardly boded well for the Masters.
As it is, Woods maintains that the break has done him nothing but good. “Obviously, I haven’t played much competitively, but I’ve been playing a lot at home. So I’ve been getting plenty of reps that way,” he said. “I’m enthusiastic about some of the changes I’ve made and so that’s been positive. Keep building and be ready come Thurs
Woods did concede that the comparatively chilly temperatures of the
Bay Area would not assist his flexibility. “When it’s cooler like this, I just have to make sure that my core stays warm and I am layering up properly,” Woods said.
“I know I won’t have the same range of motion as I would back home in Florida where it’s 95 every day. That’s just the way it is.”
On the plus side, Woods knows this layout exceptionally well. He won a play-off against John Daly in the 2005 WGC AmEx (a tournament later made notorious with Daly’s omission that he drove through the night to Las Vegas before losing his $750,000 second prize in a casino) and also won maximum points here at the 2009 Presidents Cup.
In fact, Woods played the public course on multiple occasions when he was at Stanford University in nearby Palo Alto. There is clearly an emotional connection.
“I lived up here for two years,” he said. “It’s the first time I lived away from home and being in that environment, around so many intellectually curious people and unbelievable athletes, it was a unique experience and one that I thoroughly miss.”
Inevitably, he also yearns for the days when he would simply turn up and blow away the field. Although, in a humorous exchange, he denied they came that often.
“Well, there’s probably only been three times where I knew that all I had to do was keep my heartbeat going,” Woods said, before listing the 1997 Masters, the 2000 US Open and the 2000 Open.
The 2020 US PGA is clearly not going to be added to that hall of fame, but could he possibly win? “Of course,” Woods answered, with a smirk.