By Rory Carroll
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Tiger Woods said the absence of an adoring and raucous crowd at the PGA Championship on Thursday was part of the "new normal" for the sport, which is holding its first major without any fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Woods, who is playing for just the second time since the PGA Tour returned to action in mid-June, shot an opening round 2-under 68 at an eerily quiet TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
"Well, that's our new normal," he told reporters.
"It's just the way it is and it's going to be for a while ... the energy is different."
On the plus side, he said not being followed around by noisy fans made it easier to focus.
That showed in his putting, which included a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-four 13th that drew applause and some hoots from a group of grounds crew.
"It's just different. That's probably the only way to say it," he said.
"This is what we're going to have to get used to in the near future and for probably for a while."
Every player and caddie underwent coronavirus testing prior to the tournament and media are required to wear face coverings and maintain social distance at the event, which was originally scheduled to be held in May.
Woods is looking to win his 16th major, fifth PGA Championship and record-breaking 83rd PGA Tour victory at the lake side course on the west side of San Francisco.
Woods, who went out in the morning wave alongside world number one Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, did not appear bothered by the coastal fog and cooler conditions as he mixed five birdies and three bogeys.
He is using a new, longer putter at the event, which he said helps take pressure off his surgically-repaired back, allowing him to practice for longer.
"Most of the guys on the Champions Tour have gone to longer putters as they have gotten older, because it's easier to bend over, or not bend over," the 44-year-old said with a smile.
"And so this putter is just a little bit longer and I've been able to spend a little bit more time putting."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)