DUBLIN, Ohio — Tuesday morning, in his first appearance at a PGA Tour event in five months, Tiger Woods hit a majestic iron shot during a practice round that soared toward an elevated green 250 yards away. When the ball deftly skirted bunkers protecting the putting surface and settled eight feet from the 15th hole, one person among the handful of security officers, volunteers and media members watching Woods clapped his hands.
As the faintest possible applause pierced the stillness at the Muirfield Village Golf Club, home to this week’s Memorial Tournament, Woods seemed uncomfortable, or startled. Accustomed to being surrounded by tens of thousands of cheering admirers, even during practice rounds, Woods awkwardly turned to his one fan, offered a sheepish wave and smiled.
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that spectators are no longer allowed at PGA Tour events, including practice rounds, a situation that has led to quiet, uneasy non-celebrations even as a tournament-clinching final putt falls into the hole. Woods has watched the scenes from afar on TV, but on Tuesday he got his first taste of the changed environment.
He is still trying to adjust.
“I’ve been there when they’re throwing drinks towards the greens and people screaming, high-fiving, people running through bunkers — that’s all gone,” Woods said to reporters after his practice round. “That’s our new reality that we’re facing.”