After playing a leisurely 18 holes this morning in the Quail Hollow pro-am, Tiger Woods said his second golf tournament of the year feels more like normal than his return to golf at the Masters three weeks ago.
“This feels a heckuva lot more normal than the Masters did,” Woods said at a press conference just after noon.
Woods’ gallery grew as the morning unfolded. There were several hundred fans when he and his amateur partners teed off at 7:30 a.m. but thousands were following as they played the closing holes. There were no incidents of heckling from the gallery as Woods made occasional conversation with fans during the round.
Woods said he decided to make the Quail Hollow Championship his second event of the year because of his comfort level at the tournament.
“I’m trying to get back to normalcy,” Woods said. “Charlotte has always been one of my favorite tour stops. It’s always a treat to play a course like this. It’s very similar to a major championship.”
Asked about the reception he received from fans, Woods said, “The people here have always been very gracious. The fans really get into the event.”
Woods played with Kurt Kimball and Jim Rathburn of the Compass Group. Woods’ name was available when they landed the first pick in the Tuesday night draw party so they took the chance to play with him. “I could hardly get the words out of my mouth,” Rathburn said.
Despite the large crowds, Rathburn said the morning round of golf with Woods was unforgettable. “It was the experience of a lifetime,” he said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d have the chance to do this.
“He’s been great. He even settled me down a little bit just by talking to me. He was extremely personable.”
Woods was greeted by applause as he walked from the practice green to the first tee and, upon being introduced prior to his tee time, he smiled at the crowd and tipped his white cap.
The closest thing to an awkward moment came when Woods flared his opening tee shot far to the right, leaving in the trees between the first and third fairways. Woods made par from there.
Walking from the first green to the second tee, Woods stopped and gave a signed golf ball to a six-year old boy from Gastonia, posing for a photo with the youngster.
Woods was paired with Kurt Kimball and Jim Rathburn and they played quickly, moving around Quail Hollow with no players in front of them on the first nine holes.
It was a ragged start for Woods, who will be making his second start in almost six months when the Quail Hollow championship begins Thursday.
Woods put his tee shot in the par-3 second hole in a greenside bunker left of the putting surface and flared another drive into the right trees at the third hole before finding his rhythm.