Tiger’s return to form has brought a level of noise today’s Tour stars are uncomfortable with. And the rising decibels could play right into his hands.
The return of the Tiger roar, Augusta’s next expansion and the New Rules of Golf... Your briefing for the full month ahead starts here.
The return of Tiger Woods has been excellent news for golf and excellent news for golf fans, but very bad news for his young rivals.
Not just in the sense that Tiger’s return to action and contention in tournaments will make it harder for them to win golf tournaments. We’ve already seen that it will. But more in the sense that it brings with it a circus that has been missing on the PGA Tour for the last five years that Tiger Woods has been out of action.
At the Genesis Open last month, after Tiger had played alongside Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, the Irishman complained that the galleries following Tiger were becoming out of
control. “I swear, playing in front of all that, he gives up half a shot a day on the field,” said Rory. “It’s two shots a tournament he gives to the field because of all that goes on around him.”
For “all that goes on around him”, read a significant increase in numbers and noise. No player attracts the galleries Tiger attracts, with the good, the bad and the ugly that brings out.
At January’s Farmers Insurance Open, on the par-5 13th, Tiger’s birdie putt was scuppered when a lone voice among the hundreds watching blurted a hoary old refrain of “get in the hole” in the middle of his backswing. Tiger missed the putt and glared at the gallery, not knowing who to blame.
Of course, in an era where it somehow makes sense to some to scream “Mashed Potatoes” for no good or obvious reason, this isn’t unique to Tiger Woods. But with it being Tiger, the numbers and noise are just more extreme. And as Rory rued, that’s tough on Tiger. “He has to deal with that every time he plays. Whoever’s teeing off at 8:30 in the morning doesn’t get that. He can just go about his business and do his thing.”
But as tough as it is on Tiger, it can be tough on those who enter his air space.
The ghost town
The whole Tiger Woods Experience gave Rory a headache. Woods has grown used to it. “It’s cost me a lot of shots over the years, it’s cost me a few tournaments here and there,” he said. “It’s been a lot because all it takes is one shot on a Thursday that you lose a tournament by a shot on Sunday. It’s not just something that happens on Sunday afternoon, this is cumulative and it’s par for the course.”
Tiger Woods may have grown wearily used to the circus, but to the new generation of rivals around him now, it’s alien. Justin Thomas played with Woods and Rory during the opening two rounds at the Riviera in February, but he didn’t fully appreciate the experience until the following day, with Woods cut from the field. “It was just bizarre because those first two days, there’s so many people,” he said. “And then Saturday morning, there was nobody. Rory and I were walking up to the tee and we’re like, ‘Where is everybody? Does he really bring that many people?’”
Evidently, he does. “On the weekend of the Valspar [where Tiger finished second] you had Tiger’s group, and you had a ghost town on pretty much the rest of the course,” says GW contributor and PGA Tour regular Brian Wacker. “The crowd is also far more vocal when it comes to Tiger, and as soon as he hits, the sea of people moves forward, talking, making noise without any regard for anyone else in the group. And remember, we now have a social media look-at-me generation, so the crowd is more boisterous than it was in the past.”
If Tiger can stay fit and find a way to contend in tournaments, expect those numbers and the noise to keep on rising. It may harm Tiger’s chances, but it may harm his opponents more.
When Tiger won the Masters in 1997, Nick Faldo feared it might be the only major he could win. Not because Tiger didn’t have the game, but because Augusta National created a safe zone he wouldn’t get anywhere else, with quiet patrons and practically no one else inside the ropes.
Faldo soon realised that Tiger could shut out most of the noise. “Now it’s his greatest asset,” he
‘On the weekend of the Valspar, you had Tiger’s group pretty much the rest of the course. And his crowd is more
said. “Everyone joining him on the weekend at a major goes into his world. That’s Tiger’s arena. Other guys step into that arena one week and go back out. He’s there all the time. And good luck coming into his world.”
Suddenly, you wonder if Tiger’s giving up half-a-shot a round, how many shots might his rivals be handing over?
Any suggestion that the world has moved on and left Tiger behind was cut down at the Honda Classic, where a record 224,624 spectators broke the previous attendance record – a 20,000 rise on 2017. They were, according to the organisers, largely “propelled by the return of Tiger Woods”.
On US television, viewing figures for the tournament were 43 per cent up from the previous year, when Rickie Fowler won. At the Valspar, Sunday viewing figures were higher than at any Sunday major in 2017 bar the Masters.
As the Associated Press’ Doug Ferguson noted, “Tiger Woods no longer moves the needle in golf. He is the needle. Even when he finishes 12th.”
If he can stay fit, his young rivals will have to get used to it.
and then you had a ghost town on boisterous than it ever was before’