Tiger Woods could be a dream draw for Rory McIlroy at PGA Championship

Tiger Woods could be a dream draw for Rory McIlroy at US PGA Championship with no spectators in sight… as the American admits concerns over his stiff back in cool conditions at Harding Park

  • Rory McIlroy was drawn with Tiger Woods in first round of PGA Championship 
  • The match-up would usually be a problem for McIlroy with all eyes on Woods
  • But it could work in the Irishman’s favour with no spectators at Harding Park
  • Woods had admitted to concerns about his fused back in the cool conditions 

For a man who owned up recently to losing focus, the first-round draw for the first major in 382 days must surely have commanded all of Rory McIlroy’s attention.

How does Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and the Northern Irishman sound as a welcome back threeball to golf at the highest level, and Thursday’s first round of the 102nd US PGA Championship in San Francisco?

Normally, you would consider such a high-profile match-up as bad news for Rory. It was in California he once complained of needing a couple of Advil after playing in Tiger’s company. The last thing you need when you are trying to play your way into a major is a vast crowd with eyes on one man, and it is not you.

Rory McIlroy will fancy his chances against Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship first round 

There will be no crowds watching the American at Harding Park, which could help McIlroy 

4-11pm: Shane Lowry, Gary Woodland, Brooks Koepka

4-22pm: Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

4-33pm: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas

9-36pm: Tommy Fleetwood, Viktor Hovland, Hideki Matsuyama

This time, of course, there will be no spectators walking when McIlroy is trying to hole a four-foot putt. 

The 31-year-old confessed recently to losing concentration when playing with no crowds but this time, with Tiger and the new world No 1 for company, it might all just work in his favour.

As for Woods, he turned up for his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday looking like a man who had been out for a few holes in January rather than August. 

Underneath a thick jumper was a snood to keep his neck warm. The temperature was 15C, and it is not forecast to climb much higher all week.

As if the 44-year-old did not have enough going against him, therefore, with just four competitive rounds under his belt in five months, the cool weather is a nightmare for a man with a fused back. 

In each of his two starts this year, Woods has complained of stiffness.

‘I’ll make sure I’m properly layered up and I’ll keep my core warm, but it is just the way it is that I won’t have the same range of motions that I would if I was playing in the 95-degree heat (35C) in Florida,’ he admitted.

The Irishman has admitted to losing focus with no crowds but should be inspired on Thursday

This is a return to old haunts for Tiger. He went to university at Stanford, just a 30-minute drive from the Harding Park venue. 

He has been on site since Sunday, getting to know the considerable changes made to the course since he beat John Daly in a play-off to win a WGC event in 2005.

He also played a starring role when Harding Park hosted the 2009 Presidents Cup, winning all five of his matches. 

‘The noise was so loud, I think I was deaf for a couple of days in my left ear after the play-off against John,’ Tiger recalled. 

‘I still think about it. I just wish it had a better ending (Daly missed a two-foot putt to lose at the second extra hole). We’d both played too well for it to finish like that.’

Woods is concerned the cool conditions could prove to be a nightmare for his fused back 

At least he fancies his chances this week far more than at this event last year, when he was fresh off his unforgettable win at the Masters. 

‘I’d been at the White House, I’d been everywhere and I’d been too busy celebrating,’ he confided. ‘I might not have played much competitively going into this week but I’m better prepared than I was back then.’

The final question was a stock one, producing a stock answer, but no less welcome for that. Woods had stood for the 20-minute press conference and looked uncomfortable as he shuffled from foot to foot as chronic back sufferers do. But he smiled broadly when asked: ‘How do you rate your chances, can you win this week?’

Tiger restricted himself to a time-honoured couple of words. ‘Of course,’ he said, and left the stage.

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