Woods return set to provide further lift to PGA Tour

Tiger Woods plays a shot during a practice round prior to The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. The event will be Woods' first on the PGA Tour in five months. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods will compete in this week’s Memorial Tournament in Ohio, his first PGA Tour event since mid-February, an arrival that is expected to provide further lift to the sport as it continues its comeback amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Five weeks after the Tour resumed competition, Woods on July 14 played his first practice round at Muirfield Village Golf Club in preparation for the start of the Memorial two days later. Woods, the world’s 14th ranked player but still the sport’s top television and fan draw even after years of personal scandal, multiple injuries, and subpar play, said playing without fans in attendance will be a sizable adjustment.

“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 Memorial was to be the first event on the men’s golf circuit to allow attending fans. But continued complications from the public health crisis forced organizers last week to scrap those plans. And since then, the Tour said the rest of its revised 2019-20 schedule will also be held without spectators.

“There’s nothing to feed off of energy-wise,” Woods said. “You make a big put or make a big part of make a big chip or hit a hell of a shot, there’s no one there.”

Woods’ last Tour play was at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles, California, five months ago, where he battled back issues and finished last among those who made the cut. His last competition of any type was the the sequel for “The Match” in May, which generated record-level ratings for Turner Sports.

The 44-year-old Woods is seeking his 83rd PGA Tour event win, a mark that would break the career record he shares with Sam Snead.

The presence of Woods should also be a boon for NBC Sports’ Golf Channel and CBS, which will share US coverage of the Memorial. Woods will play with fellow golf superstars Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka during the opening two rounds.

“I’ve seen Tiger play very well after long layoffs,” said Jack Nicklaus, Memorial host. “You never know what to expect. I don’t think Tiger will be as sharp or as ready as he normally is, but Tiger is Tiger. He’s a pretty darned good player, and my guess is he played quite a bit of golf at home and he doesn’t want to come here and not play well.”

Nicklaus said he strongly supported the late switch to not have attending fans at the Memorial.

“Maybe we are a little too early for the galleries,” Nicklaus said. “We would have loved to have [done it]. My goal putting on the golf tournament is bring major championship-type golf back to Columbus, Ohio, where I grew up. That’s why this even is being played. It’s not being played for the players. It’s being played for central Ohio. But I understand it, and I actually think it was the right decision.”