SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The PGA Championship, golf’s first major of 2020, kicked off on Thursday amid chilly and silent conditions at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco where Tiger Woods was among the early starters on a course closed to spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tournament typically does not garner anywhere near the same attention as golf’s three other blue-riband events but was getting the marquee treatment this year as it is the first major championship since the July 2019 British Open.
The morning wave, many clad in long sleeves and some wearing beanies, were greeted by mostly cloudy skies and temperatures around 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius) at a course where thick rough and tight fairways is expected to challenge the world’s best golfers.
Woods, whose only PGA Tour event since February was a share of 40th at the Memorial Tournament in mid-July, began his quest for a 16th major championship in the company of four-times major winner Rory McIlroy and world number one Justin Thomas.
While Woods usually draws the biggest galleries in the sport, on Thursday he was introduced at his opening hole to utter silence as the course was closed to spectators to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus.
The four-times PGA Championship winner, who started at the par-five 10th, found the rough with his tee shot. He left his approach shot short of the green but managed to get up and down from 37 yards for an opening birdie.
Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka, who also started on the back nine, made bogey at the par-three 11th where he missed the green and then needed two putts from seven feet.
The PGA Championship, originally scheduled for May, was supposed to be the second major championship of the season after the Masters in April but was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The tournament begins an unprecedented stretch of seven majors being contested over the next 12 months due to a shifting schedule because of COVID-19.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Writing by Frank Pingue, editing by Pritha Sarkar)