None of the players really knew how their swings would fare in tournament conditions after such a long layoff, but with virtually no wind and calm conditions, Colonial was rendered defenseless.
Rose, the No. 14-ranked golfer who won here two years ago, seemed in top form. His 7-under 63 featured seven birdies and no bogeys. He birdied three of his first five holes for a 31 on the back nine and then birdied holes one through three for a 32 on his front side.
“I think everyone has been trying to do their best to prepare, and we’re certainly all coming in rested, that’s for sure,” Rose said. “But no one quite knows where their tournament game is. Although my game wasn’t great the first few holes, I made a couple of putts, knocked one in from just off the green on my first hole of the day, so I looked at my caddie and went, ‘welcome back.’”
Some of the players’ off time was spent studying the tour’s 37-page participant resource guide detailing strict protocols for testing, disinfecting and social distancing. Players, caddies and tournament staff all underwent testing for the coronavirus before being allowed onto the course and will receive daily temperature checks and tracing questionnaires before being allowed into the clubhouse.
But social distancing proved difficult for players and caddies accustomed to huddling over yardage books and handing clubs to one another. Countless groups stood shoulder to shoulder on tees. When Rory McIlroy’s caddie struggled to put the flagstick back in the hole, McIlroy joked with him, “You have to put the whole thing all the way in.”
“We’re trying to follow the guidelines, but it’s amazing how routine and what you’ve done for 20 years kicks in, and you’ve got to keep reminding yourself,” Rose said. “I’m sure we all made a couple of mistakes out there, but we’re definitely very conscious of what we touch personally.”
Some fans managed to find ways to catch the action. Behind the second tee, a group of 11 young adults pressed against a chain-link fence, peering over a hedge to catch glimpses of the action. On the back nine, several houses have erected makeshift mini grandstands.