It’s not often that Tiger Woods chips in for a birdie when it counts and hears no roars from the gallery. But with spectators banned for their own safety from Saturday’s third round of the AT&T National after a huge windstorm uprooted trees across Congressional Country Club, Woods and his PGA Tour brethren basically had the course to themselves.
The host of the tourney that usually attracts hordes of fans clamoring for a glimpse of the star attraction took advantage of the quiet to fire a 4-under 67 and move to within one shot of Brendon de Jonge’s 7-under lead. At five back to start the day, Woods took the field after a six-hour postponement during which maintenance crews removed more than 40 large trees, including a 75-footer that fell across the 14th fairway. The widespread damage came from Friday night winds that reached 80 m.p.h. and caused power outages for nearly 500,000 area residents.
"It was an easy decision [to keep fans off the course]," said Mark Russell, the tour’s vice president of rules and competition, who noted that crews worked through the night to make the course passable and playable. "it was just too dangerous ... Everything that was inside the ropes has fallen outside the ropes.”
Woods claimed that the eerie calm and quiet after the storm had no impact on his flawless, four-birdie performance that included a chip-in for birdie at the par-5 sixth.
"Whether we have thousands of people or we have a small handful of people out there, it doesn't change the execution of the shot," Woods told reporters following his round. "What does change is when I hole a shot like I did on six, it's not going to be as loud today as it normally is."
Indeed, Woods said the crowds -- or lack thereof -- were not on his mind as he began his third round.
“You know, that wasn't something I was thinking about out there. I was just trying to play,” he said. “This was a Saturday round. It was a chance to play myself into a tournament.”
Other players noted the strangeness of it all.
“It was just so quiet,” Jim Furyk told PGATour.com’s Brian Wacker. “It was odd.”
For Beau Hossler, the 17-year-old amateur who made such a splash at the U.S. Open earlier this month, the lack of crowds was nothing new.
“It kind of felt like a junior tournament,” said Hossler, who had a cheering section of four family members, according to Wacker. “It is nice to have some people to bounce it off if you hit it in the trees, but other than that it was no different. We were lucky to get out there and play.”
Sunday, when tourney organizers will honor Saturday tickets, promises to be a more typical day at a tour event with Woods in the hunt for his third win of the season. With players going off No. 1 and No. 10, Woods will tee off on the first hole with de Jonge and Bo Van Pelt (tied with Woods at 6-under) in the final group at 1:15.