The thought of returning to the PGA Tour crossed Tiger Woods’ mind well before this week’s Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.
But Woods, a five-time winner of the event, put his safety first. He wanted to wait and see how the first five tournaments were played during the coronavirus pandemic before committing to the Memorial via Twitter on July 9.
“I just felt it was better to stay at home and be safe,” Woods said Tuesday. “I’m used to playing with lots of people around me or having lots of people have a direct line to me, and that puts not only myself in danger but my friends and family, and just been at home practicing and social distancing and being away from a lot of people. Coming back and playing the tour, in my case over the 20-some-odd years I’ve been out here, that’s really hard to say, that I’m used to having so many people around me or even touch me, going from green to tee. That’s something that I looked at and said, well, I’m really not quite comfortable with that, that whole idea.”
The Memorial will be Woods’ first tour event since Feb. 16, when he played in the final round of the Genesis Invitational, shot 77 and was last among those who made the cut. Woods teamed with former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning to play against Phil Mickelson and Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady in a charity match in late May to raise money for coronavirus relief.
One of the biggest differences Woods will see when he tees off with Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka for the first two rounds is that there will be no fans at the tournament this week. It was announced in early June that fans would be permitted at the tournament, but then officials announced that fans would no longer be allowed to attend because of the increased number of coronavirus cases.
No player on the tour has a bigger fan following than Woods, who is a 15-time major champion. But like everybody else on the tour, Woods will have to adapt to the change. Players have described the scene to him as a very different world out there.
“It’s going to be different, there’s no doubt about it,” Woods said. “For most of my career, pretty much almost every competitive playing round that I’ve been involved in, I’ve had people around me, spectators yelling, a lot of movement inside the gallery with camera crews and media.”
The Zozo Championship, which he won in October; the Farmers Insurance Open, at which he tied for ninth in January; and the Genesis, where he finished 67th, are the only three tournaments Woods has played in this season.
Woods is ranked 41st in the FedEx Cup standings and 14th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Woods said his back was stiff when he played in the Genesis in California. But the long layoff has helped him healthwise. He played a practice round with Justin Thomas on Tuesday.
“I feel so much better than I did then,” Woods said. “I’ve been able to train and concentrate on getting back up to speed and back up to tournament speed, so how I was moving at ‘The Match’ and being able to progress since then, being out here today and being able to play with JT today, it was a lot of fun for both of us.”
Woods was asked his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and his reaction to the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly eight minutes on May 25.
“I think change is fantastic as long as we make changes without hurting the innocent, and unfortunately that has happened. Hopefully it doesn’t happen in the future, but a movement and change is fantastic,” Woods said. “That’s how society develops. That’s how we grow. That’s how we move forward. That’s how we have fairness. Unfortunately we’ve lost innocent lives along the way, and hopefully we don’t lose any more in the future as we move to a much better place socially.”