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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | Golf - By James Cor­ri­gan

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

far.

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

day.”

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.

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