SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — England’s Paul Casey finds himself in the thick of the battle for the PGA Championship title at TPC Harding Park as Round Three begins Saturday, but it’s a very strange and alien world right now in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Thousands of fans are not lining the fairways as they normally would at a major championship to cheer and, at times, jeer the players. The electricity is gone.
Still Casey has grinded through the first two rounds of the championship and at 5-under par is just three strokes off the lead going into Saturday play.
“My game has not been good,” said Casey, who has missed two cuts and placed 67th last week in Memphis since the PGA Tour restart. “I commented yesterday — I’ve actually struggled with not having fans out. I’ve really missed it — plain and simple. I’ve not been able to get the excitement going, lacking energy and all that goes with having fans at a sporting event, at a golf tournament, I just genuinely miss it. So I’ve felt very flat.”
Casey also found himself without long-time caddy and confidant John McLaren, who chose to remain home in England until returning to the bag this week.
“John couldn’t come over — well, he could have come over but chose not to come over, he lives in the UK with the (CODIV-19) travel restrictions,” Casey told reporters after firing a 67 on Friday. “The Tour had negotiated a way not around that — Washington had helped out. He still would have had a 14-day quarantine… I’ve missed him.”
Casey also has missed the normal camaraderie that surrounds life on the PGA Tour. San Francisco is a city known worldwide for its outstanding restaurants, but they remain shuttered this week for indoor dining over fears of spreading COVID-19.
“Life away from the golf course here is also quite flat,” he said. “We would go out and have dinner, hang out with people and now none of that exists. I’ve not enjoyed going out and playing golf.”
There was a silver lining for not having fans the first two rounds for Rory McIlroy, who was paired with Tiger Woods. Normally, thousands of Woods fans would be lining the course, boisteriously cheering him on.
This week, the cheers are limited to the 12th hole where fans are peaking through holes in a fence surrounding the course from a nearby street.
When asked, McIlroy left little doubt the impact of not having the gallery while playing with Woods.
“It’s so much easier,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m happy to be drawn (in a pairing) with him every week until fans come back. You can see even on the 12th hole — the tee box there along side the road — Tiger gets on the tee and everyone goes crazy and you have to wait for them to settle down. So the fact that we don’t have to deal with that and the fact that he doesn’t have to deal with that every week is sort of nice. But I still want crowds to come back. It’s much better to play in front of them, but it does make it easier.”
The scorecard may actually say just the opposite.
For the first two days, Woods, McIlroy and the world’s No. 1 golfer Justin Thomas played together and struggled. All three barely made the cut line — McIlroy enters Saturday at 1-under for the tournament. Woods is at even par and Thomas just squeezed under the cut at plus-1.