The ‘strange’ scene confronting Tiger Woods

Australian golf star Stuart Appleby says the lack of crowds at this week's US PGA in San Francisco poses an interesting dilemma for the game's biggest names.

Normally surrounded by huge galleries at a major tournament, the likes of Tiger Woods will be left to ply their trade in silence this week, with COVID-19 restrictions preventing any spectators from attending the Harding Park course.

Appleby, who was paired with Woods during the 2005 WGC American Express Championship at the same course, said playing in the same group as the 15-time major champion usually brought its own set of challenges.

"It is going to be really strange this week without crowds," Appleby told Wide World of Sports.

"Where it's really different is for the big guns. I always remember playing with Tiger or Phil Mickelson, and they had a different energy about their crowds.

"It was never easy playing in their groups, there was always an element of distraction, Tiger even more than Phil. Without that around, we don't know how he'll react."

Appleby said it will be fascinating to see how the big names handle the silence this week, in the delayed first major championship of the season.

But regardless of the unusual scene, Appleby said the players will still be aware that they're competing for one of the game's biggest titles.

"A guy like me would have spent most of my career around a couple of dozen, maybe a hundred people. Tiger will be missing 5,000 people a hole. Is that a relief for him? Is it really nice? Or do they miss the interaction and cheering and energy from the crowd?" Appleby wondered.

"It looks weird on TV, and it takes away some of the hype around this being a major. But every player knows that come the back nine on Sunday the nerves will be there."

With cool conditions forecast for San Francisco this week, all eyes will be on Woods' fragile back, which has undergone four surgeries, including a spinal fusion.

At the age of 44, nobody knows better than Woods that his body can let him down at any time.

Stuart Appleby won nine times on the US PGA Tour.

"It's not going to be hot, so it's going to be hard yakka for Tiger," Appleby said.

"He wants to have a bit of a sweat going, because then he's up to temp and ready to go. But if you're not sweating, he's not warm enough. At least the course is pretty flat, there's no weird lies that might tweak his back.

"But he knows he needs his body, and he doesn't know if it will always be there.

"It can change day-to-day. That's his handicap now. His brain will always beat anyone else. But he just doesn't get the reps in that he needs, especially with the putting."

Another body that's been headline news through 2020 is that of Bryson DeChambeau, who has packed on around 10 kilograms of muscle during the COVID-19 shutdown.

It's meant his average driving distance has surged clear of the field, and he's one of the favourites to claim his first major title this week.

The 26-year-old's sudden weight gain raised eyebrows and forced his trainer to deny speculation of steroid use.

"I think it's a really interesting shake-up, he's made people think and wonder," Appleby said.

"Pulling off something like what he's done takes real skill, you need expert help obviously to do that to your body, but also the trust that you'll get where you want to go, otherwise it could be futile.

"You don't want to be in a situation where you're wasting precious years of your career.

Bryson DeChambeau is making waves across the circuit with his impressive physique and results to match.

"Only he will be able judge if it's successful. And what exactly is success? Is it one major, or multiple majors? Who knows?"

Currently ranked seventh in the world, DeChambeau recorded four straight top 10 finishes, including a win, immediately after the COVID-19 hiatus.

"It's interesting for the game. He's got some emotional maturing to do, and that's because he's gone from nobody to somebody really quickly. He will have to find his way," Appleby said.

"He's very different, and very different is fine. What he does is jaw-dropping, and if someone is talking about you for being different, well that's awesome."

His immense length of the tee has renewed talk that the technology in the golf ball needs to be wound back, or historic courses risk becoming obsolete. It's talk that's been around for decades, with the sport's rule-makers showing little inclination to act.

"That was a very big topic after Tiger won the Masters in 97," Appleby said.

"Watching Bryson hit the ball a mile is awesome. Don't forget he's also a good putter, he's not just playing like an idiot, he's doing the right things.

"The nuances of the game won't change. People say that three under par might have been the winning score back in 1955, well who cares? Cricket isn't the same sport it was 50 years ago, it's much better now to watch, it's almost a different sport. It's the same with golf.

"We need to focus on keeping the sport enjoyable and growing the game, and if Bryson does that, well good luck to him."

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