The PGA Tour is two-plus months into fanless tournaments and two of the game’s best players are still trying to adjust to it.
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have been to the pinnacle of the sport, winning major championships in front of massive crowds that set the tone for what’s at stake. Those memories serve quite the contrast compared to this weekend, when Woods and McIlroy were paired together for the Northern Trust at TPC Boston and were largely left playing out the string after falling out of contention at another event with no spectators because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“This is going to sound really bad,” McIlroy told reporters after finishing the tournament two-under. “But I feel like the last few weeks, I’ve just been going through the motions. I want to get an intensity and some sort of fire, but I just haven’t been able to. And look, that’s partly to do with the atmosphere and partly to do with how I’m playing. I’m not inspiring myself, and I’m trying to get inspiration from outside sources to get something going.”
McIlroy has resorted to making bets with his caddie during practice rounds, though there is currently plenty on the line with the FedEx Cup winner set to earn $15 million.
Dustin Johnson, who captured a win at the Northern Trust after running away with a 30-under effort, leads the FedEx Cup standings with 2,571 points. His dominant performance came just a few weeks after leading the PGA Championship through three rounds.
The clutch outings at the quiet events aren’t coming as easily to everyone, though.
“You hit good shots and you get on nice little runs, we don’t have the same energy, the same fan energy,” Woods said Sunday after finishing six-under. “It is different.”
No crowds also means no hecklers, but Woods has grown used to the large following, which makes for a big adjustment now that they are all gone.
“Anyone who has played in front of thousands of people, it is very different,” Woods said. “Usually between 20,000 and 40,000 people screaming and yelling. That’s always been one of the things I’ve become accustomed to; the guys who played with me, who haven’t become accustomed to it, they have only experienced one round here and there; that’s been every round I’ve played for over two decades.
“That advantage, for me and some of the other top players that have been out here for a while who have experienced it, trying to deal with all that noise and the movement, that experience is no longer there.”