(CNN)During any normal golf tournament, the words “on the tee, Tiger Woods” are usually followed by rapturous applause from the gathered crowd.
But with no fans currently permitted to attend PGA Tour events — to avoid spreading Covid-19 — Woods’ return to competitive action was met by silence at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.
Playing in his first competitive PGA Tour event since the Genesis Tournament in February, the lack of atmosphere proved the least of Woods’ problems.
On a blustery day, the 44-year-old struggled with winds exceeding 30 mph and the rustiness that comes with five months away from competitive action to card a one-under 71 and finish five shots behind leader Tony Finau.
Despite having to battle those different elements, Woods said he felt “good” after completing his round.
“It felt good. I was a little bit rusty but felt like overall it was a good start. It’s been a while since I’ve played. Got off to almost an ideal start and got a feel for the round early. I just didn’t make anything today. I had looks at birdies, but I really didn’t make much,” he said afterwards.
“I was very pleased the way I drove it, my feel for my irons. I just didn’t quite hit the putts hard enough. Most of my putts were dying, didn’t quite have enough oomph to it.”
A different atmosphere
While the reception he might’ve normally got on the first tee was different, Woods didn’t let the lack of atmosphere show, birdying the first hole.
“The energy wasn’t the same without the fans. That certainly was noticeable, mostly different,” said Woods, who has won this tournament a record five times.
“[But no] I definitely didn’t have any issue with energy and not having the fans’ reactions out there. I still felt the same eagerness, edginess, nerviness starting out, and it was good. It was a good feel. I haven’t felt this in a while.”
Woods’ round wasn’t completely silent though. As his group — along with major champions Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka — walked down the opening hole, some young fans voiced their support from over their fences.
A group of children — three of which had painted their faces in tiger stripes — on the 11th hole stood on chairs to watch the group. They brandished a sign reading “Tiger’s Cub House” and chanted “Go Tiger!” — eliciting a smile and a wave from Woods.
Woods can break Sam Snead’s 55-year-old record of 82 PGA Tour wins if he wins this week.
He will have to catch Finau to claim that elusive 83rd win though. The American finished with seven birdies over his last 10 holes to close out with a six-under 66.
World number 1 McIlroy is four shots behind Finau, while U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland is just two off the lead.