A RAR­ITY: A QUIET GAME

Pop­u­lar Woods still ad­just­ing to play­ing with­out mas­sive gal­leries fol­low­ing him

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

Tiger Woods ar­rived at Olympia Fields for the first time in 17 years, this time with no one around to chase af­ter his ev­ery move from the mo­ment he stepped out of the car un­til he walked off the course. That’s not a bad thing.

He’ll be in a red shirt on Sun­day with about the same num­ber of peo­ple.

That’s not good, at least not for him.

Woods is learn­ing af­ter three tour­na­ments what oth­ers have be­gun to re­al­ize over the last three months. Some play­ers thrive on en­ergy from the crowd as a pickme-up. Now the re­ac­tion, the vol­ume, is the same for a birdie as a dou­ble bo­gey.

Woods is one of those play­ers who feeds off noise.

“Al­ways have,” he said. “I’ve played in front of thou­sands of peo­ple ever since I turned pro 24 years ago. It’s al­ways been odd when I haven’t played in front of peo­ple. In one way, it’s been nice be­tween tees not get­ting tapped or get­ting a glove pulled out of my pocket. Those are things I’ve had to deal with for a very long time.

“But you hit good shots and you get on nice lit­tle runs . . . we don’t have the same en­ergy, the same fan en­ergy.”

This is not his is­sue alone, nor is it the rea­son he has yet to fin­ish in the top 35 in the three tour­na­ments he has played since golf re­turned from the coro­n­avir­us­caused shut­down. Hit­ting good shots and mak­ing putts goes a long way in any en­vi­ron­ment.

Graeme Mc­Dow­ell was walk­ing along the ninth fair­way in the mid­dle of his sec­ond round last week at the TPC Bos­ton when he said he felt like a “golf zom­bie.”

“It’s like I have no soul,” he said. The cour­ses are dif­fer­ent and look the same. They’re empty. Mc­Dow­ell spoke of need­ing the adren­a­line he gets from the crowd around the first tee at a U.S. Open or Ry­der Cup. Maybe some play­ers do bet­ter with no one watch­ing, es­pe­cially if they’re on edge and need some­thing to calm them down. Mc­Dow­ell isn’t one of them.

With­out spec­ta­tors, has Woods lost an ad­van­tage he once had?

“Ab­so­lutely,” Woods replied. “Any­one who has played in front of thou­sands of peo­ple, it is very dif­fer­ent. That’s al­ways been one of the things I’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed to. The guys who played with me, who haven’t be­come ac­cus­tomed to it, they have only ex­pe­ri­enced one round here and there. That’s been ev­ery round I’ve played for over two decades.

“That ad­van­tage — for me, and some of the other top play­ers — try­ing to deal with all that noise and the move­ment, that ex­pe­ri­ence is no longer there.”

Nick Faldo touched on this when he was dis­cussing the 10-year an­niver­sary of Woods win­ning the 1997 Masters, a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in golf. Faldo said that when he slipped the green jacket on Woods that Sun­day, he thought the Masters would be the only ma­jor he could win.

Sure, Au­gusta Na­tional suited his game.

“But also be­cause the Masters was the only ma­jor that the me­dia was kept out­side the ropes,” Faldo said. “And I thought that was go­ing to be his big­gest chal­lenge. Now it’s his great­est as­set. Ev­ery­one join­ing him now on the week­end at a ma­jor goes into his world. That’s Tiger’s arena. Other guys will step into that arena one week and go back out. He’s there all the time. And good luck com­ing into his world.”

It’s a new world for ev­ery­one now.

It’s es­pe­cially dif­fer­ent for Woods, not so much for some of the play­ers paired with him.

For the less ac­com­plished play­ers who al­ways won­dered what it was like to be in his shoes, the ab­sence of spec­ta­tors has al­lowed Woods to see what it’s like to be in theirs.

ANDY LYONS/GETTY IM­AGES

Tiger Woods hits a shot Wed­nes­day dur­ing a prac­tice round for the BMW Cham­pi­onship at Olympia Fields Coun­try Club.

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