“Eerie, peaceful, but just not any fun,” said Jim Furyk, who has spent the past two decades on tour. “It’s awkward, more than anything else. It’s so quiet. Usually there’s a buzz or a whisper.”
The only buzz, virtually all day, was of chainsaws. Because the violent thunderstorms of Friday night felled at least 40 trees on Congressional’s grounds, tournament organizers made the decision early Saturday morning — before they even knew if they could hold the third round — to close the course to fans and most of the 2,000 volunteers used to conduct the event. The debris was just too significant, and potentially too hazardous, with broken limbs across the course hanging delicately, as if waiting to fall on passersby.
Thus, the odd scene: a virtually vacant course conducting what should be an intense competition.
“I don’t know when the last one was, when there was a competitive round without fans,” said Greg McLaughlin, the tournament director and the CEO of Woods’s foundation. “So it is difficult [to take that step]. But from a safety standpoint, it made sense because you’re talking about 25-30,000 people, and then you’re talking about 2,000 volunteers. You have to be so far out in front of that.”
Who remained: The 80 players who made the cut; their caddies; the media; some wives and girlfriends and family; the staffs from Woods’s foundation, Congressional and the PGA Tour, some of whom were bleary-eyed; and small groups of volunteers deemed essential to conducting the event. Tee times were delayed nearly six hours, and when George McNeill stood over his first drive of the day at 1 p.m. — the first man to begin play — 16 people sat in the stands behind the first tee. The loudest sounds were the chirping of birds.
“There was a couple times, you open a water bottle or something and it kind of fizzes,” said Brian Harman, who played in McNeill’s group, “and you’re like, ‘Man, I’m used to that being kind of drowned out.’ It was definitely different.”
When McLaughlin raced to the course around 11 p.m. Friday, he found the front entrance blocked by what he thought was one large tree. Turns out, there were four. He tried to enter behind the second green, near a maintenance area. Another tree. He went behind the sixth tee. More trees. Finally, he called for help just to navigate the fallen forest.