Tiger Woods will be looking to shake off the rust and contend for a second straight major at Bethpage Black.
Ryan Fox expects Tiger Woods mania to be in full force at Bethpage Black over the next four days, and hopes to soak up some of those good vibes himself as he follows the 15-time major winner around for at least half that time.
New Zealand’s top golfer, and the world’s No 84, will get a pretty decent look at the latest wave of Tiger obsession when he plays in the group right behind the newly crowned Masters champion for the first 36 holes at the PGA Championship, the year’s second major which tees off late Thursday and early Friday (NZ time).
And while that is expected to present its challenges, given the expected size of the galleries and their likely voluble nature following Woods around the course at Bethpage, Fox told Stuff he does not anticipate any negative spinoffs for his own group one spot behind. They tee off at 12.35am Friday (NZT).
“I had it at the Open in Carnoustie last year, and it’s certainly a different experience having a massive crowd and none of them there to watch you,” said the 32-year-old Kiwi who will be playing his seventh major. “I’m sure it will be probably even more raucous on Thursday and Friday (UST), with a massive buzz around Tiger now after the Masters.
“It’s great for golf. New York fans are renowned for being quite loud, and if you get on the wrong side of them they can be a little bit nasty too. It will certainly be an experience playing behind Tiger in that regard.
“It’s probably a lot better than playing in front of him. You still get the experience of the crowd but you’re not worried so much about people trying to get in position to watch Tiger’s shot. Everyone I’ve talked to about it always says it’s to better play with him or behind him than play in front of him.
“But it will be cool just to be part of that whole experience really.”
Fox’s attitude for a tournament he’s regarding as somewhat of a free swing after playing so little golf in recent months following his March wedding is very much about rolling with whatever he encounters and doing his best to enjoy it.
To that extent he even sees a potential advantage in playing in the group behind the glamour trio of Woods, defending champion Brooks Koepka and 2018 British Open winner Francesco Molinari.
“I’m not too worried about it,” he told Stuff. “Crowds don’t bother me and you can look at it as a bit of an advantage. The rough is up here this week and if you get 20,000 people following one group that certainly knocks it down a little bit.
“You might get away with the odd wayward tee-shot here or there which you wouldn’t get if you are one of the first groups out. I don’t intend to spray it off the tee, but if it happens, it can work out in your favour.”
Fox and Woods share something in common for this tournament. Both come in with very little golf under their belts.
Woods hasn’t played any tournament golf for 30 days after the huge emotional and physical toll of his Masters victory.
The Kiwi has only had two tournaments since the New Zealand Open at the start of March and admits he goes in way too underdone for his liking.
Woods, of course, has played at a very high level more recently, but pundits are suggesting he may struggle to match his masters heroics over the testing Bethpage layout.
Fox, however, gives Woods a decent chance to at least contend on a course that suits his all-purpose game.
“It’s a tough one for him because he hasn’t played any tournament golf for four weeks either,” said Fox. “He probably deals with that a little better and is more used to it than I am, but he’s got to be feeling a little bit of rust and I’m sure that Masters took a lot out of him.
“But Bethpage is a course he’s won round before, and it’s a golf course that puts a premium on good iron play, especially long iron play. He’s been the best player in the world at that for a very long time, and arguably the greatest of all time.
“It is a course that should suit him and he should have some good vibes around here. I would definitely expect him to contend here. Nothing is a given, it is a tough golf course, and if you have a bad day off the tee and gets a couple of poor lies it’s going to bite you pretty hard.
“But hopefully he plays well. It’s good for golf if he’s firing and I’m sure if he’s up there during the week it’s going to be pretty crazy round here.”