Paul McGinley on why Tiger Woods is primed to shine when golf returns

Tiger Woods celebrates Masters win

Paul McGinley believes the ‘new normal’ of the sporting world could play into the hands of Tiger Woods as the US PGA Tour prepares to explode back into life.

The US PGA Tour will be rebooted as the Charles Schwab Challenge gets underway at Colonial Country Club in Texas on Thursday, with world No 1 Rory McIlroy leading a strong field as golf returns in a world that has utterly changed since the Players’ Championship was suspended on March 13.

Golf is resuming without the familiar cheers from the galleries, with social-distancing rules in place and all players and caddies currently quarantined in America as they prepare to get the sport back in a made-for-television event.

Fans may be permitted to return to the course in limited numbers for next month’s The Memorial Tournament in Ohio, with organisers hoping to welcome 3,000 spectators who will all have to follow social distancing guidelines, ensuring the familiar roars of the crowd are likely to be absent for some time to come.

In an exclusive interview with Golf365, 2014 Ryder Cup-winning skipper McGinley believes a reduction in the number of spectators may play into the hands of 15-time Major winner Woods.

“I look at guys like Rory or Tiger and they are used to having huge crowds following them and it will be different now, but I think this could play into the hands of Woods,” stated McGinley, speaking at a Paddy Power event.

“Tiger will enjoy the fact there is no noise, no commotion around him, no one asking for a selfie or an autograph. He has reacted better to all of that in recent years, but he could do without it.

“I remember him winning a tournament in Japan last year when they played a couple of rounds with no fans present because the rains came in and they couldn’t let the fans in on health and safety grounds.

“Tiger thrived in that environment. He doesn’t like to be disturbed, he likes to have total focus and that’s why I say these new surroundings won’t hurt him.

“He’s had three months to rest, he’s not travelled and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play very well when he comes back – he will certainly be a contender to win the three Majors left to play this year.”

McGinley proved himself to be the master of tactical planning and leadership when he led Europe to a thumping Ryder Cup win against Tom Watson’s America six years ago – and he suggests mental strength will now be crucial as sport tries to get back into gear around the world.

Golf, soccer and tennis are all set to resume this month, with McGinley expecting managers and coaches to play a crucial role as the athletes grapple with a fresh set of challenges.

“So much of what we are going to see over the next few weeks is going to be a mental test for athletes,” says McGinley, who set a new world record for the number of putts holed in one minute during the Paddy Power Golf Shootout on Friday.

“Managers and coaches will have a huge role to play as they try to get their players to get their minds right for the new environment they are going to be facing.

“Preparing for competitive action, having had three months of inactivity, will be tough. And it will require those on the sidelines to be at their best. Maybe they will need to think outside of the box, and provide the platform for these guys to win matches.

“I am reminded of one of the best pieces of advice that came my way from the great Swedish player, Jesper Parnevik, in my first Ryder Cup.

“We had a meeting the night before the singles and we had all played one match at least. There were four rookies in the team and Sam Torrance asked at the end of the meeting if anyone had anything to add – and Jesper put his hand up.

“He made the point that four rookies who were playing their first singles matches in the Ryder Cup needed to be ready to deal with a very different atmosphere on that final day.

“If you are in the bottom half of the singles draw, very low crowds tend to be following your game and that is hard to get used to when all eyes have been on you in the opening two days.

“It can be a very eerie place. Your match is just as important as the one at the top of the draw, but it doesn’t feel like that if you are out there on your own.

“Well, I remember looking around the green in my match against Jim Furyk on the Sunday as I waited for Jim to take a pitch shot. I counted 24 people around the green watching us.

“The roars were going up all over the course, but you felt detached from it all, and you have to find a way to keep your intensity when you are in that situation. Immediately, I felt this sense of loneliness come over me.

“At that moment, I remembered Jesper’s comments and they were important to keep me focused and that is the kind of scenario coming the way of all players now.

“They need to get their blinkers on. This is them against the golf course. No one is watching them, this is different to anything they have experienced, but there are still big tournaments to be won and it will be fascinating to see who thrives.”

Paul McGinley spoke to Golf365 in association with Paddy Power.