DUBLIN, Ohio – Tiger Woods knows he needs to swiftly shed some rust and rapidly find a rhythm to playing a PGA Tour event again.
He also has to quickly discover a cadence to deal with the new world of silence.
After a five-month break from the PGA Tour, Woods returned to work Tuesday alongside Justin Thomas for a quick – and very quiet – practice round on the back nine at sun-drenched Muirfield Village ahead of Thursday’s start of The Memorial.
It didn’t take long for Woods to see things are going to be unusual.
“It’s certainly a different world, different environment that we’re in,” Woods said. “To play practice rounds like this and to watch as the Tour has evolved and started back and to see no fans, it’s just a very different world out here.
“I’ve had cameras on me since I turned pro, so it’s been over 20-some-odd years that virtually almost every one of my shots that I’ve hit on the Tour has been documented. But this is a different world and one we’re going to have to get used to. There’s nothing to feed off of energy-wise. You make a big putt or make a big par or make a big chip or hit a hell of a shot, there’s no one there. That’s one of the more interesting things that I’ll be dealing with going forward.”
Woods last played on the PGA Tour Feb. 16 when he shot a final-round 77 and finished in last place at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club north of Los Angeles. In his only other start on the PGA Tour this year, Woods, who is seeking his record 83rd PGA Tour title, finished in a tie for ninth in the Farmers Insurance Open in January.
He last played in competition – and played well – in The Match: Champions for Charity on May 24, where he and Peyton Manning defeated Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady on the final hole.
Woods, 44, considered playing a tournament before the Memorial but opted on the side of caution. He wanted to see how things played out when the PGA Tour returned after a 13-week hiatus due to the COVID global pandemic. Now he has to find a routine in dealing with COVID on the road.
“I feel that I’m comfortable enough to come back out here and play again, and I’m excited to do it,” said Woods, who has won The Memorial a record five times, the most recent victory coming in 2012. “The Tour has done a fantastic job of setting up the safety and trying to ensure that all of us are protected and are safe, but it is a risk that we are now undertaking when we walk on the property and are around individuals that you don’t know where they’ve been or what they’ve been doing.
“But the screening, the testing we’ve done, the protections that we’ve tried to implement on the Tour have shown that we’ve had to make adjustments, but it’s a risk that I’m willing to take.”
Woods, ranked No. 14 in the world, said he kept active in his time away – frequently playing golf at The Medalist near his Florida compound; playing a bunch of tennis; and spending tons of quality time with his two children. He also was able to train throughout the time off and said his body feels much better now than it did back in February when back stiffness popped up in Los Angeles and bothered him for a few weeks.
“I’ve been able to train and concentrate on getting back up to speed and back up to tournament speed,” he said.
Woods has plenty of experience to call upon when dealing with long layoffs, his troublesome left knee and back forcing plenty of extended breaks. And in his most recent dealings with playing in front of no spectators, he’s done quite well.
Last fall, fans were not allowed for the second round of the Zozo Championship in Japan after torrential storms. Woods shot 64 that day and went on to win the tournament by three shots to tie Sam Snead for the most victories in PGA Tour history with 82. The win also came 11 weeks after he last played and two months after having surgery for the fifth time on his left knee.
And in 2012, Woods played the third round of the AT&T National at Congressional north of the nation’s capital in front of no fans after a powerful storm uprooted trees on the golf course. He shot 67 – his low round of the tournament – and went on to win by two shots. The victory was his 74th and moved him past Jack Nicklaus on the all-time win list.
“I’m going to have to just put my head down and play. But it’s going to be different, there’s no doubt about it,” Woods said. “I would like to say that I’m going to win the event. That’s my intent. That’s my intent going into every event. Come Sunday, hopefully that will be the case. It was that one particular week, three tournaments ago at the Zozo. There’s no reason why I can’t do it again this week. I’ve just got to go out there and do my work and make that happen.”