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.

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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’

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