Tiger Woods, A Pandemic, An Empty Course — A Entrance-Row Seat When No one Else Is Watching

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By Michael Hurley, CBS dangolka

NORTON (CBS) — Normalcy.

Lately, it appears that evidently’s all anyone needs. That elusive, desperately desired “sense of normalcy.” Understandably so — even when it’s been uttered so many occasions as we stray farther and farther from its essence that the phrase may need already misplaced all which means.

Absolutely, seemingly every little thing in America proper now feels something however “regular” — in actual life, in sports activities, and in every single place in between. And definitely, nonchalantly standing 5 toes away from a golfer who usually attracts 1000’s upon 1000’s of adoring, raucous followers is decidedly not regular.

That’s the place I discovered myself Thursday morning, capitalizing on the distinctive alternatives of a sports activities journalist by getting access to The Northern Belief, which — because of the coronavirus pandemic — is closed to most people. Although I could not usually cowl golf regularly, this was no regular occasion.

The final time I attended this event, I used to be considered one of 1000’s of spectators. The event had a distinct title and a distinct sponsor. It was held on a distinct date in a distinct playoff format. But it’s not a lot these adjustments that makes this occasion really feel overseas. It’s extra that the tens of 1000’s of followers usually scattered all through the grounds at TPC dangolka have been nowhere to be seen. As a substitute of grandstands and sky chalets, there have been … bushes. And grass.

The vacancy made this specific second really feel just like the strangest place on earth.

Unusual, on this occasion, doesn’t imply dangerous. On this case, it signifies that as a substitute of making an attempt to push your approach via galleries which can be 25 individuals deep in the summertime warmth to merely catch a glimpse of Tiger, you’ll be able to merely stroll up the tee field, stand simply toes away from him, and casually stroll alongside one of the vital well-known individuals in all the world.

So that’s what I did.

The Wax Museum

Tiger Woods hits an method shot on the 10th gap at TPC dangolka. (Picture by Maddie Meyer/Getty Photos)

Despite the fact that followers should not allowed onto the grounds of TPC dangolka, I nonetheless anticipated there’d be extra individuals available for Tiger’s 8:37 a.m. tee time. His spherical was starting on the 10th tee, which is not more than 30 steps away from the media heart that serves because the central hub of this specific event.

But as Woods — sporting a shiny blue shirt with a black hat, black pants, and black sneakers — joined Matthew Fitzpatrick and Dylan Frittelli on the tee field on a pleasantly cool, dewy morning, solely about 15 individuals have been standing close by.

Seeing Woods stand over his ball on the 10th fairway is like seeing a online game character come to life. A hologram. The wax determine from Madame Tussauds dropped in the midst of a golf course.

In my profession and my life, I’ve seen fairly a number of superstars up shut. LeBron James, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, David Ortiz, Sidney Crosby — the All-Stars amongst All-Stars. Solely two have had the Wax Determine Impact: Derek Jeter and Tiger Woods.

For me, personally, that’s largely on account of having watched each Tiger and Jeter on tv, on the peak of their skills, from the mid-to-late ’90s into the early 2000s, a time interval which occurred to coincide with my adolescence. Like most individuals, that was the time frame after I was falling deeply in love with sports activities. Seeing Jeter play shortstop from seats low on the third-base line at Fenway was like climbing right into a TV present I had watched for a decade. And seeing Tiger on TPC dangolka in 2018 was like seeing Abraham Lincoln climb out of a historical past textbook and ship the Gettysburg Handle proper earlier than my very eyes.

Seeing Tiger on this course in 2018 was the primary time in my life I had ever seen Woods in individual. It was his first look at TPC dangolka in 5 years, and although I don’t have any official figures and numbers, I’d estimate that he drew in roughly double the traditional crowd.

For that event, when my father and I arrived for the third spherical, we noticed that Woods was on the fifth gap. So we camped out on the eighth inexperienced and waited a bit. After some 20-30 minutes, a stampede of human beings emerged on the horizon. Tiger was coming.

That scene regarded like one thing out of a historic warfare film, with Tiger serving as one thing of a William Wallace to the 1000’s of individuals marching behind him.

This scene, two years later? This scene regarded like a normal Thursday morning tee time at an area course. It simply so occurred that the best golfer the world has ever seen was first off the tee.

I used to be lucky sufficient to be joined by fellow WBZer Dan Roche, who spent his off day following Tiger as a result of, as he described it, “It’s like following round Michael Jordan.”

That’s an apt description, besides this was like getting a non-public displaying. On the busiest factors, there have been 15-20 individuals following Tiger — media members, photographers, videographers, volunteers, and law enforcement officials working the occasion. In the course of the quietest occasions, there was possibly a complete of 5 of us in tow.

In comparison with the same old crowds of golf followers — males, girls, kids, and frat bros competing in opposition to one another to see who can yell “TIGER!” the loudest — this was downright … awkward. Although Woods has had tens of millions of individuals observing him for the previous 25 years, if you’re considered one of three individuals watching him, you’ll be able to’t assist however really feel such as you shouldn’t be there — such as you’ve hopped a fence and trekked via the woods, simply ready for an official to come back and seize you by the collar whereas telling you that it’s time to depart.

Rochie thinks Woods should miss the power and adrenaline rush that comes from navigating these huge crowds of those that flocked to each gap he’s ever performed. Me, I’m not so certain. Whereas slightly added juice would possibly assist, somebody like Tiger would possibly recognize this newfound peace that’s by no means as soon as been part of his skilled golf expertise.

In 2018, Tiger Woods tees off on the first tee at TPC dangolka. (Picture by Andrew Redington/Getty Photos)

Shut Encounters

This spherical was really my second day on the course. I confirmed up Wednesday to select up my credential and to get a lay of the land, in order that Thursday introduced no surprises. And let me let you know this: When you really feel awkward following Tiger throughout a aggressive spherical, you’ll be able to double or triple that feeling whereas watching one of the best golfers on the earth throughout their apply rounds.

Your intuition, as a human, is to snap photos and movies if you stumble upon your Rorys, your Dustins, your Justins and your Jordans. But if you’re simply type of … standing there as they fireplace off a sequence of putts, and there’s no person else inside earshot, you slide that telephone again into your pocket to keep away from that creeping paparazzo feeling.

There’s loads of star energy scattered all through the course always, however the one participant with equal magnetism to Tiger would in fact be Phil Mickelson. On Wednesday afternoon, I luckily regarded up from my telephone simply in time to keep away from a head-on collision within the car parking zone with a person who appeared to have bought all the Phil Mickelson costume on the Halloween retailer: black Workday shirt, black KPMG hat, and super-reflective outsized shades.

Phil Mickelson (Picture by Gregory Shamus/Getty Photos)

The apply rounds have been enjoyable to see, however the actual event felt like a complete lot extra was at stake.

Woods teed off from the again for his first spherical, which presents a novel psychological problem. Each professional interviewed this week was requested concerning the again 9, and particularly the stretch from 11 to 14 that options essentially the most difficult holes on the course. Patrick Reed stated that if you happen to can constantly par these holes, you’ll find yourself gaining strokes on the sphere.

On today, Tiger made it via the impossibly lengthy 12th with a par, however he despatched his tee shot on 13 proper, into the bushes between the 13th and 14th fairway. Rochie and I camped out instantly behind the ball, seeing a transparent tunnel to the inexperienced via the bushes.

Tiger Woods hits out of the tough on the 13th gap at TPC dangolka, as golf nerds Dan Roche and Michael Hurley watch from behind. (Picture by Maddie Meyer/Getty Photos)

Maybe a youthful Tiger would have tried (and clearly succeeded) to punch via the bushes and make birdie. However at 44 years previous and after present process the entire knee surgical procedures and the again surgical procedures, that wasn’t within the playing cards. Tiger tried to make the secure play by lobbing a shot over the bushes again into the green; he got here up brief and ended up within the tough. His subsequent shot went off the again of the inexperienced. He virtually chipped in for par however needed to take a bogey.

If Tiger felt any frustration, he launched it together with his driver on the subsequent gap, when he outdrove Fitzpatrick by a clear 40 yards. He’d come shut on a pair extra birdie putts — a theme of his first 9 — earlier than lastly getting a birdie with a two-putt on the par 5 18th.

For anybody who’s ever attended the event right here, essentially the most jarring views right this moment come on the 16th and 18th. Throughout regular occasions, the 16th — a par Three with a tee shot that carries a scenic pond — is teeming with individuals filling the containers and grandstands that encompass all the gap. The containers that usually encompass the 18th inexperienced create an identical area really feel that makes for a dramatic ultimate view.

Now, although, they simply seem like golf holes. Lovely, difficult, distinctive golf holes. In lots of respects, having no person round allowed me to see simply how attractive the 17th and 18th holes are. However there’s little doubt that the everyday grand appear and feel to those championship programs is sorely missed.

“It’s very totally different,” Woods stated in his post-match interview. “Our walks are very totally different. Coming off the greens, simply — then there’s no grandstands. The buildout is nowhere close to what we had it, and it is rather totally different, and it’s very overseas. A few of the greens complexes look — how can I put it? Quite a bit larger? As a result of they don’t have the construction across the greens, and we don’t have 1000’s upon 1000’s of individuals strolling round this golf course. So it’s a really totally different environment.”

You stated it, Tiger.

A normal view of the 18th inexperienced at TPC dangolka in 2020 (Picture by Michael Hurley/CBS dangolka)

A normal view of the 18th inexperienced at TPC dangolka in 2016. (Picture by Maddie Meyer/Getty Photos)

The 18th inexperienced at TPC dangolka in 2014 (Picture by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Photos)

The Tiger Second

Nothing about this spherical could also be regular, aside from the sensation that comes if you’re watching Tiger Woods play golf.

Rochie, the everlasting optimist, ran his telephone battery dry making an attempt to seize the shot, the Tiger second that sparks the kind of run we’ve all seen so many occasions earlier than. And when his telephone died, he’d nudge me: Get this one. Get this shot. Movie this birdie. This is perhaps the one.

I used to be lucky to get to see this aspect of Roche. Right here’s a man who’s been to all of the Tremendous Bowls, World Collection, Stanley Cup Finals and NBA Finals you’ll be able to consider, but his enthusiasm and real pleasure for this second and this chance with this participant was palpable for the total 5 hours.

(Facet be aware: You need to all be so lucky as to attend a sporting occasion with the one and solely Dan Roche.)

The primary actual Tiger shot was his second on the 18th — a 235-yard shot that left him an eagle putt of just below 27 toes. He obtained that one to 3 toes and holed the ensuing putt for his first hen of the day.

On the primary fairway (his 10th gap of the day), Tiger appears a bit relaxed now. He picked up Fratelli’s divot and tossed it to his caddie. Exterior the ropes, our group of touring Tiger watchers has been whittled all the way down to 4 complete human beings (outdoors of these on the green working the dwell on-line broadcast). I’m getting considerably used to being this near Tiger … however are you able to ever actually get used to that?

He delivered one other Tiger shot on the par 5 second. After escaping a fairway bunker for a setup in entrance of the massive water hazard, he completely positioned a wedge from 110 yards out, dropping it behind the pin with slightly spin to attract it again towards the opening.

He’d miss that 11-foot birdie putt, although, and he hated his tee shot off the membership on the par Three third. It ended up being OK, establishing his 16-foot birdie putt which dropped him under par for the primary time all day.

Woods tried to hit the inexperienced on the drivable par Four fourth, however ended up in a bunker on the entrance aspect of the inexperienced.

Time for an additional Tiger shot.

Again-to-back birdies … and Tiger was heating up.

He’d birdie the daunting 600-yard par 5 seventh earlier than giving us one other Tiger shot on the par Three eighth.

After that tee shot, two individuals within the tiny Tiger touring get together set free a whoop. “Nice shot!” a lady yelled out from some 25 yards behind Tiger. That and the few claps have been met with fast silence and no recognition from anyone.

Right here was Tiger, within the midst of a stretch of 4 birdies in a six-hole stretch, in a FedEx Cup occasion, and the one cheer lasted all of 1 single second, changed by chirping birds, distant airplanes, and low murmurs from golfer to caddy on the tee field.

It was bizarre.

Had Tiger been capable of shut out his spherical with a 3rd straight birdie, then he’d actually have been cooking with fuel. However he was disgusted by his tee shot, which bled proper and led to his third muffled tee-box expletive by my unofficial depend. Bear in mind 100 years in the past, when he’d face nationwide criticism for displaying disgust with himself within the tee field? He’s developed a really skilled approach of disguising that rage over time … however it’s good to know the hearth nonetheless burns.

He shook off that feeling, although, partaking in some pleasant chatter with Frittelli because the threesome left the tee field. I didn’t overhear many conversations from Tiger on today — he spent a number of time on the aspect of the green reverse the ropes, and he wasn’t overly talkative basically — however on this second he may very well be heard telling Frittelli, “I grew up on a par Three course.”

After all, Woods was toiling away on the par Three programs of Heartwell and Bellflower in Southern California years earlier than the 30-year-old Frittelli was even born. When Tiger received the ’97 Masters, Frittelli was nonetheless ready to rejoice his seventh birthday in South Africa. Frittelli little doubt is aware of that Tiger is a legendary determine in golf, however he doubtless views him via a distinct prism than anybody who was sufficiently old to actually dwell via that meteoric rise to the highest of the golf world.

In any occasion, the 2 have been engaged your run-of-the-mill small discuss, in no way in contrast to the kinds of chats you’ve got with random strangers thrown into your weekend foursome. This one simply concerned Tiger Woods.

That errant tee shot left woods within the tough alongside the suitable aspect of the opening. It wasn’t too dangerous of a lie, and he had an honest angle on the inexperienced, however (by the sounds of it) he chunked the shot and got here up brief, touchdown on the financial institution of an evilly positioned bunker about 25-30 yards shy of the inexperienced. Maybe Tiger was a bit drained; this course is kind of lengthy.

His shot out of hassle was a roll or two shy of getting close to the pin, and his 16-foot par putt didn’t go down. Woods’ again 9, which featured 4 birdies within the earlier six holes, ended with a bitter bogey.

With that, Woods gave some air first-pumps to his taking part in companions and their caddies, headed off the mound behind the inexperienced, walked via the empty picnic tables arrange for media eating, hopped on the again of a cart, and was whisked away, again to dwell a Tiger Woods life, no matter that entails.

What occurs subsequent, properly, we are going to all see collectively — from afar. His rating of 3-under left him in a 23-way tie for 30th place. He’ll enter the second spherical simply 4 strokes off the lead, however in a crowded subject that includes the world’s greatest golfers, a repeat of his 2006 win on this course is probably not within the playing cards.

For his half, Woods — who entered the week ranked 49th within the FedEx Cup standings — stated he simply needs to get into that prime 30, so he can play at East Lake, the place he received two years in the past.

When he received The Tour Championship that 12 months, it not solely marked the official return of post-surgeries Tiger as a viable winner as soon as once more. It additionally created one of the vital dramatic scenes in current golf historical past, with Tiger wanting just like the one-man Beatles as followers swarmed the 18th fairway with the hope of catching a glimpse of Tiger being again.

A couple of months later, Woods received the Masters for the primary time in 14 years. He was certainly again. However then, one other knee surgical procedure, one other setback.

He’s received as soon as since then, and he stays one event win shy of setting the all-time document. If he does it this 12 months, it’s going to doubtless are available equally dramatic style in one of many uniquely scheduled majors. That looks like the becoming place for Woods to creator yet one more uniquely Tiger second.

For now, even when he’s not profitable, he’s nonetheless fairly a draw. The group taking part in in entrance of Tiger’s included Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, and Webb Simpson — the three gamers atop the FedEX Cup standings. But outdoors of watching them tee off on the 10th, Rochie and I didn’t make any added effort to sneak any appears at their photographs. Not on today. At the present time was about Tiger.

Tiger Woods (Picture by Maddie Meyer/Getty Photos)

An Strange Day … Like No Different

Underneath regular circumstances, shopping for a easy grounds cross to a golf event will get you unbelievable entry to one of the best gamers on the earth. Not like, say, the NFL, a ticket doesn’t simply get you a seat a whole lot of yards from the gamers. With some technique and persistence, you may get your self inside 5 toes of whichever golfer and nonetheless many golfers you need. There’s actually nothing like attending an expert golf occasion. However there’s actually nothing like attending this skilled golf occasion.

Every part on the tee containers, fairways, bunkers and greens was kind of precisely the identical because it’s been the numerous occasions Woods has performed golf earlier than. But every little thing outdoors of the ropes couldn’t have been extra totally different.

For 20-plus years, 1000’s of individuals noticed Tiger play golf for 4 days each week that he performed. Day after day, week after week, 12 months after 12 months, that variety of spectators grew into the incalculable tens of millions.

Witnessing Tiger Woods hit a shot or two will not be in and of itself an entirely distinctive occasion. But everybody who’s executed it remembers precisely when it occurred, precisely the place it occurred, and precisely what occurred.

So watching a non-public displaying of Tiger, watching each single considered one of his 68 photographs, with barely anyone on the course, in a spherical that’s not even televised? That’s unquestionably a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. Nothing may have been much less regular, and you already know? Simply this as soon as, that’s fairly all proper.

Tiger Woods on the ninth gap at TPC dangolka (Picture by Michael Hurley/CBS dangolka)

You’ll be able to e mail Michael Hurley or discover him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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