'Return to Golf' complete for PGA Tour only with 'Return of Tiger' but sport is still without fans
By the time Tiger Woods tees up next Thursday at Muirfield Village, the PGA Tour in its re-birth will be five events old. Yet, the excitement that one simple tweet from the 15-time Major winner generated, was amazing.
It has been an eventful week in the world of golf. The European Tour made its return; the PGA Tour, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, allowed three players, who returned ‘positive’ tests for COVID-19, to play together because they had quarantined after earlier positive tests and were now not showing any symptoms.
A week earlier the Tour allowed Cameron Champ to tee up Rocket Mortgage when he returned three negative tests after one positive one on the eve of the Travelers Championship earlier on.
And, yes, former World No 1 Brooks Koepka, who had skipped two events after his caddie tested positive two weeks ago, was back but without his original caddie.
That was already a lot to chew on. Yet, there was more to come.
On Monday, 6 July, the organisers at the Memorial announced that were changing plans and would now not allow fans on Muirfield Village, which was hosting back-to-back events.
Three days later, the only man who matters in golf, Tiger Woods, tweeted his plan to play for the first time since February.
I’m looking forward to playing in the @MemorialGolf next week. I’ve missed going out and competing with the guys and can’t wait to get back out there.
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) July 9, 2020
We will never know whether or not the Memorial’s decision to have a ‘fan-free’ event helped Woods make his decision to play. But then in these times of a pandemic, fans will be happy to see Woods play, even on TV, is a jackpot.
The PGA Tour christened its re-worked schedule as the “Return to Golf” as competition restarted on 11 June at the Charles Schwab Challenge. The Tour is now into its fifth week, as the stars battle it out at the one-off Workday Charity Open, which among others features Jon Rahm, World No 2, and two former golfer, who held the World No 1, Justin Thomas, now No. 5, and Koepka, now No. 6.
Virtually every top player, who is not stuck outside the United States, has played in at least one of the five events. Well, almost.
However, the ‘Return to Golf’ was not complete in a manner of speaking, as none of the starting fields in the first five events had that one name which gets the TV ratings to zoom – Tiger Woods.
So after weeks of ‘will-he-wont-he’ Woods finally announced that he was committing to the Memorial, an event he has won five times in 17 starts and finished in Top-10 several times.
Now the ‘Return to Golf’ will be complete in its true sense for PGA.
After just one start in 2016 and three in 2017, Woods, since the beginning of 2018, has played 35 events. He has missed the cut in four – twice each in 2018 and 2019 and three of those four missed cuts were in Majors. He failed to make the weekend once each at the US Open (2018), the PGA (2019) and the Open (2019). But, he did win the Masters in 2019. Late last year in October, he won the ZOZO Championship in Japan to join Sam Snead at the summit of PGA Tour wins with 82 successes.
In 2020, Woods has played just twice. He was T-9 at the Farmers Insurance and the T-68 at Genesis was his worst finish in a tournament where he had made the cut since his 71st place at the 2015 Memorial.
Now Woods will be back at the Memorial, an event he has won five times 1999, 2000, 2001, 2009 and 2012, and where he has also had four other Top-10 finishes in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2019 at the course that Jack Nicklaus built.
Initially, the PGA Tour plan was to allow fans at the Memorial for the first time after the re-start. The PGA Tour probably expected Woods to re-start at Muirfield Village, which is perhaps why the Tour wanted the fans back from this event. The plan was to allow only 20 percent of the capacity.
Yet, there was always this feeling that many of the players, despite saying they wanted fans, were getting used to the safety net of a “no-fans” atmosphere.
So, the question – though not articulated by many - at the back of the mind of all fans and experts was whether Woods was ready to ‘risk’ playing with fans in attendance at a time when a pandemic was raging.
He did play a Charity event alongside Phil Mickelson and two NFL Legends, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but there were no fans.
Interestingly, on 6 July, the Memorial announced that it would not have fans as planned before. A couple of days later Woods tweeted he would be teeing up at the Memorial. If there was any connection between the two decisions is anybody's guess!
By the time Woods tees up next Thursday at Muirfield Village, the PGA Tour in its re-birth will be five events old. Yet, the excitement that one simple tweet from the 15-time Major winner generated, was amazing.
But didn’t I say earlier, I am just happy to see Woods start. But then who isn’t in the world of golf.
Make no mistake, Woods loves the energy the fans bring into his game. But these are different times. No fans is a way to minimise the risk of players and staff catching the virus.
Woods is currently 41st in the FedExCup standings and 14th on the World rankings. He has already won in this wrap-around season at the Zozo Championship in October, 2019. After making a run at his own event, the Hero World Challenge, he went as a playing captain to the Presidents Cup at the Royal Melbourne in December and led the US to a come-from-behind win.
He chose not to play after finishing way down in Genesis Invitational in February but had started preparing his title defence at Augusta. And, then suddenly the world changed and everything came to a grinding halt.
Now it is once again time to tee up. It’s been a long time. Enter TW.
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