DUBLIN, Ohio — Tiger Woods on Tuesday made his first public appearance in nearly two months when he played a practice round for the Memorial Tournament alongside his pal Justin Thomas.
The two played the back nine at Muirfield Village Golf Club, where Woods will be grouped with Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka for the first two rounds.
When we last saw Woods playing in public, he paired with Peyton Manning and defeated Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in an exhibition match on May 24 at Medalist, Woods’ home course in South Florida.
Woods last played a PGA Tour event in February, when he finished last in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, a tournament that benefits his foundation. He opted to skip the first five events of the PGA Tour’s COVID-19 restart before this week’s Memorial, a tournament he’s won five times.
“I did consider playing, trying to figure out if I should play or not,” Woods revealed after his practice round Tuesday. “But I just felt it was better to stay at home and be safe. 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. (I’ve) just been at home practicing and social distancing and being away from a lot of people.
“That’s something that I looked at and said, ‘Well, I’m really not quite comfortable with that, that whole idea. Let’s see how it plays out first and let’s see how the Tour has played out, how they’ve started, and I feel that I’m comfortable enough to come back out here and play again. I’m excited to do it.
“It feels great to be back,” Woods went on. “I hadn’t played on a tournament venue in a while — it’s been since February — so it’s been a long time for me. To get out there and to play with ‘JT’ was a bunch of fun. It’s certainly a different world, different environment that we’re in. To play practice rounds like this and to watch as the Tour has evolved and started back and to see no fans, it’s just a very different world out here.”
Woods said, as he observed the tournaments in the PGA Tour’s restart, he watched the golf differently than he normally would.
“It was more of watching golf to see how it is now, see what our near future, our reality is and our foreseeable future is going to be,” he said. “Some of the guys when they first played the first couple weeks, it was very different. To have no one yelling, no one screaming, no energy, the social distancing, no handshakes.”
Among the questions he had for his peers who have been playing in the tournaments included, “Where are you going to go work out? Are you going to be able to go work out at a gym? No, you can’t go to the gyms. What are you going to do here? Face masks?”
“We’re trying to figure out all the guidelines and the guys are trying to figure it out on the fly and also compete,” he said. “So, it was very complicated trying to get a routine for most of the players.”
Woods’ last victory came at the Zozo Championship last October. It was his 82nd career win, which tied Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour record. It, too, came after an extended time away from tournament golf of nearly two months.
Asked on Tuesday, if that showed him he can win after a long layoff, Woods said, “Well, I would like to say that I’m going to win the event. That’s my intent. Whether that plays out come Sunday … hopefully that will be the case. There’s no reason why I can’t do it again this week. I’ve just got to go out there and do my work and make that happen.”
Woods indicated that he feels better physically than he has since long before his last tournament, the Genesis.
“Physically, I was very stiff at L.A.” he said. “I was not moving that well. (My) back was just not quite loose. It was cold. I wasn’t hitting the ball very far, wasn’t playing very well, and consequently I finished dead last.
“Fast forward five months later, I’ve been able to train a lot. I feel so much better than I did then. 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.”
Woods has not been available since the tragic George Floyd death at the hands of the Minneapolis police, and was asked on Tuesday if he has felt a “positive difference” in terms of the racial injustice issues that have plagued the country in the aftermath with the protesting and awareness.
“I think change is fantastic,” Woods said. “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. 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.”