Rory McIlroy: Give me Tiger Woods pairings every round until fans come back

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After a particularly raucous round with Tiger Woods in 2018, Rory McIlroy walked off the course and reached for the Advil.

“I swear, playing in front of all that, he gives up half a shot a day on the field,” McIlroy said after they were grouped together for the first two rounds at Riviera. “It’s two shots a tournament he has to give to the field because of all that goes on around.”

Well, there isn’t nearly the same commotion now, with fans not allowed this summer (including at this week’s PGA Championship) and likely for the foreseeable future because of the coronavirus pandemic. That means Tiger Woods – one of the most famous athletes in the world, a living legend who has played in front of fans since high school – has an audience of only about 50.

That makes life easier not only for Woods, of course, but also for his fellow playing competitors.

“100 percent,” McIlroy said Friday, after being grouped with Woods and Justin Thomas for the first two rounds of the PGA. “It’s so much easier. I’m happy to be drawn with him every week until fans come back.”

Prior to the PGA, Woods had played only once during the PGA Tour restart, at the Memorial. Used to playing in front of spectators packed 10 deep, Woods had a quiet, workmanlike week, calling the experience “different” but saying it was something that everyone needed to get used to.

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An example of Woods’ new normal: TPC Harding Park’s 12th tee is pressed hard against the road, and typically, fans will cram around the box and cheer lustily when he approaches.

“Everyone goes crazy and you have to wait for them to settle down,” McIlroy said, “but the fact that we don’t have to deal with that and the fact that he doesn’t have to deal with that every week is sort of nice.

“I still want the crowds to come back and the fans. It’s much better to play in front of them. But it does make it easier.”

In the star-studded three-ball, McIlroy was the best of the group (1 under) through 36 holes, nipping Woods (even) and Thomas (1 over).