Tiger Woods is likely to find returning to the PGA Tour and playing behind closed doors “a little weird,” according to world No. 1 player Rory McIlroy.
Woods will play at the Memorial Tournament this week, his first appearance since the Genesis Invitational in February, which was before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
He will start the event in a star-studded feature group alongside Brooks Koepka and McIlroy, who feels the 15-time major champion may need some time to adapt to playing without spectators present.
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“The first three weeks that I played, Colonial, Hilton Head, Travelers, looking back on them, they were really good just to see and get a feel for what it was going to be like,” McIlroy said of no fans being in the gallery.
“Now someone like Tiger has not experienced that yet, and maybe he is going to find it a little weird going out there [on Thursday] and not having anyone, especially with the amount of crowds that he has to deal with all the time when he plays.
“I felt the first three weeks my mind was wandering a little bit. Sort of easy to lose focus, easy to lose concentration. I think some of the mistakes I was making were because of that.
“I’ve realized personally that it’s very hard for me to keep focus out here. I feel like when there’s fans and there’s that energy and the atmosphere, it’s easy to get into that mindset that you need to get into. That [having fans] is what we’re used to, that’s what we do.
“It was just a good look at what we we’re all going to expect going forward, and as I just alluded to there about losing concentration and losing focus, you just have to work really hard to keep your mind on the task at hand.
“[Try] not let your mind wander because there’s so many opportunities for it to wander because we’re in big, open spaces and you’re looking around – you don’t have that sort of tunnel of people to keep your focus.”
McIlroy finished in ties for 32nd and 41st at the Charles Schwab Challenge and RBC Heritage, respectively, before improving to claim a share of 11th at the Travelers Championship.
Having taken two weeks off and put in work with his coach Michael Bannon, the Northern Irishman feels more optimistic about his game coming into a tournament where he has claimed two top 10s in the last thee years.
“Look, this is a huge event,” he said. “I saw a stat that this field is stronger than the last eight Masters tournaments in terms of strength of field, so there’s a lot of obviously World Ranking points.
“There’s a lot to be focused on this week. Memorial Tournament is one of the biggest events we play all year, and looking forward it is definitely the start of a big run [of tournaments].
“I’m excited. It was nice to take a couple weeks off. I had planned to play the Workday [Open], but I just needed to do a little bit of work on my game, so I got my coach, Michael Bannon, over last week.
“It was the first time I’d seen him since the start of February, so it was nice to spend some time with him, get some good work done and feel a bit better about my game and my swing looking ahead to the next couple of months.”