NORTON, Mass. — Although golf has been back for more than two months, and Tiger Woods has played three events since the sport’s restart after the coronavirus-forced shutdown, he said after his final-round 66 at The Northern Trust that he’s still trying to adjust to this new reality of life on the PGA Tour.
On Sunday, again playing hours before leader Dustin Johnson teed off and again alongside Rory McIlroy, Woods opened with four consecutive birdies and almost had an eagle had he made an 11-foot putt after driving the par-4 fourth hole.
Under normal circumstances — and despite the fact that he was still 17 shots off the lead at that point — a start like that would have had TPC Boston roaring.
“Obviously the energy is not anywhere near the same,” said Woods, who finished at 6 under for the event, near the bottom among those made the cut. “There isn’t the same amount of anxiety and pressure and people yelling at you and trying to grab your shirt, a hat off you. This is a very different world we live in.
“You hit good shots and you get on nice little runs, we don’t have the same energy … the same fan energy. It is different. Normally you may have like a Thursday or Friday morning round when there’s no one out here. By the time you get around the turn, people start coming around. But it’s been like that from the word go. And yeah, it is very different.”
In fact, with the absence of fans, Woods revealed he likely has lost a bit of an edge that he held over much of the field. The usual swarm of people on every tee, fairway and green when he’s on the course doesn’t currently exist. Long have playing partners — those alongside him and those playing in front or behind him — had to deal with the commotion that comes with thousands of people following his every move.
“Absolutely,” Woods said when asked if he has given up an advantage amid the silence in these spectator-free events. “Anyone who has played in front of thousands of people, it is very different. Usually between 20,000 and 40,000 people screaming and yelling. 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 that have been out here for a while who have experienced it, trying to deal with all that noise and the movement, that experience is no longer there.”
There would have been a lot of noise and movement had there been a crowd Sunday morning. Woods knocked his approach inside 3 feet at the first hole for a tap-in birdie. His eagle putt at the par-5 second just slid by the hole, leading to another easy birdie. After a safe tee shot at the long par-3 third hole, he rolled in a 45-footer to keep the birdie run going. Then, at the par-4 fourth, he hit a laser tee shot that settled 11 feet from the hole for another eagle chance. That putt for eagle, like the one at the second, wouldn’t fall, but it led to another kick-in birdie.
“I felt like I hit the ball better,” said Woods, who had played two uneven rounds, including a messy 2-over 73 with McIlroy on Saturday, after opening the week with a 3-under 68 on Thursday. “I putted better. Everything was just cleaner and better today. It was good.”
After an aggressive play at the par-5 seventh — he hit driver from the fairway on his second shot — led to another birdie, his momentum halted for a moment with a bogey at the eighth. He rebounded with a birdie at the ninth, then posted nine consecutive pars to close out his week.
“Just wish I would have kept the round going a little bit more,” Woods said. “I had a couple nice little eagle looks on the front nine. … It could have been one of those really low rounds, but I’ll take 5 under.”
Now it’s on to the second week of the FedEx Cup playoffs — the BMW Championship, which begins Thursday at Olympia Fields just outside of Chicago. Because Woods did not have a high finish at The Northern Trust, he will likely be toward the bottom of the points list among the 70 players who qualify. That means, to advance to the season-ending Tour Championship, which takes only the top 30, he has serious work to do next week.
“My body feels pretty good,” Woods said. “This is going to be a long haul either way. I wish I would have played a little bit better this week to make it a little bit easier on me next week to try to get into [the Tour Championship at] East Lake, but this is going to be — if I played well — four out of five weeks. So it’s going to be a busy stretch either way.”
After the Tour Championship, Woods would undoubtedly skip the Safeway Open and be ready for the U.S. Open, the year’s second major, beginning on Sept. 17 at Winged Foot.
Like all the other events since June’s return, the U.S. Open will be played without fans, meaning more quiet for Woods and the field. At least he won’t have to worry about losing anything.
“I’ve played in front of thousands of people ever since I turned pro 24 years ago,” Woods said. “It’s always been odd when I haven’t played in front of people. And you know, in one way, it’s been nice between tees not getting my shoulder tapped or getting a glove pulled out of my pocket. Those are things I’ve had to deal with for a very long time.”