Fans managing to get a peek at PGA Championship, one hole at a time
Some of the best holes at Harding Park don’t have tee boxes, bunkers, or even greens.
They’re the perforations in the fence fabric surrounding the golf course, makeshift peep holes that give fans a free and fleeting glimpse of a PGA Championship that’s otherwise closed to the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clusters of curious onlookers gathered Friday along Lake Merced Blvd., which borders the 11th through 13th holes, to cheer the competitors and add a dash of energy to an otherwise quiet major championship.
While the golfers battled to make the weekend cut — with China’s Li Haotong taking the 36-hole lead at eight under par — some lookie-loos made cuts of their own, tugging at the tarp to widen their windows of opportunity.
“There you go, Tiger, do it for the Raider nation!” fan Michael Stratakis of South San Francisco yelled through a fence hole as Tiger Woods walked off the 12th tee.
Haotong Li was just two strokes off the lead after Thursday’s first round before putting in a strong round of 65 at the PGA Championship on Friday.
Stratakis, 26, said he hadn’t been waiting long — “only about three hours” — to offer some words of encouragement to his favorite golfer. Woods didn’t break stride, but the moment was captured on the ESPN broadcast.
“I was trying to get a wave so bad,” Stratakis said, “but I got a head nod.”
Is it easier to play with Woods when the holes aren’t lined with galleries in the thousands?
“Hundred percent,” said Rory McIlroy, who played with him the first two rounds. “It’s so much easier. … But yeah, like you can see, even the 12th hole, the tee box there alongside the road, Tiger gets on the tee and everyone goes crazy and you have to wait for them to settle down. 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.”
Then, McIlroy caught himself.
“But not saying — I still want crowds to come back and fans,” he said. “It’s much better to play in front of them. But it does make it easier.”
Friday was balmier than the rest of the week, and some of the scores reflected that. Tommy Fleetwood and Cameron Champ both shot six-under 64s to pull within striking range of Li, and two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka is in a six-way tie for second, two shots off the lead.
Matthew Wolff of Simi Valley, playing in his first major, shot a 68 on Friday to go to three under for the tournament, including three birdies in his final seven holes.
This week marks the first time he has played Harding Park, although he has played his share of golf in Northern California, including on the Monterey Peninsula at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, and Poppy Hills. He knows how the rough on these courses can be, but this week it’s even thicker than usual.
“The grass, yeah, but the length of it is new,” said Wolff, 21, who attended Westlake High and Oklahoma State. “When you come up here and play in the high school state championship they’re not going to have five inches of rough. It is a little different. But luckily I’ve been driving the ball really well, so I have a lot of confidence with my driver, with my ball-striking, and if that keeps up, the putts will keep on dropping and I’ll probably be in a really good spot.”
In two rounds, Bryson DeChambeau has hit drives of more than 330 yards a total of 10 times.
In other words, he has been … remarkably restrained?
Cameron Tringale was disqualified from the PGA Championship on Friday after signing a scorecard that had a wrong score for the eighth hole.
“I can’t really let it rip out here this week,” said DeChambeau, who has bulked up by 40 pounds in recent months and is at two under par. “Not to the full extent. I feel like the rough is too penalizing, and I’m trying to keep it in the fairway. Sometimes the risk really isn’t worth the reward.”
Round of silence
Players are still adjusting to tournaments — majors, no less — without spectators.
At one point, DeChambeau drained an eight-foot birdie putt, instinctively raised his hand to acknowledge the gallery, then sheepishly lowered it when he remembered there was no one there to clap.
Many players have said they don’t need the crowds to spark that extra competitiveness within them. Paul Casey is not one of those players.
“I’ve actually really struggled with not having fans out,” said Casey, who seemed not to be too bothered in shooting a 67 on Friday. “I’ve really missed it, plain and simple. I’ve felt I’ve not been able to sort of just 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.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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