We had been on the grounds since approximately 8:30 a.m., watching the other golfers tee off, putt and struggle at the various holes, but continue to play diligently and strive for the best.
We decided to hit the bleacher seats at least an hour before Tiger Woods was scheduled to tee off. This was the second day of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and my first time in attendance at a professional golf tournament. It was approximately noon and the seats were filling up fast. There were a lot of big names at this event: Garcia, Cabrera, Mcllroy, Fowler, Mickelson, just to name a few. But whether you hated him, or idolized him, everyone was there to see Woods, including my son and me.
We watched a couple tee off just prior to his. Popovic and Weekley drove and the crowd politely responded, although, Popovic had a weak effort.
In the meantime, Woods was warming up behind this huge wall quite a distance away and we could barely see him and only on occasion. All of a sudden, the gentleman sitting next to me announced Tiger was approaching! As soon as the majority of the crowd noticed him, the applause commenced. He had on a white cap, with a blue Nike golf shirt and gray slacks. His gait displayed a slim man, with broad shoulders and a muscular physique as he expatiated along, consumed with pride, not to be confused with or compared to conceit. Woods touched the brim of his hat as the crowd cheered, thus displaying a gesture of appreciation to the huge following of fans he almost lost during a tumultuous period of his career. Everyone waited in anticipation of his first drive of the day at this prestigious event.
Earlier in the day, we had witnessed some challenging putting on the first hole as exemplified by Rickie Fowler and his partner Sergio Garcia. Fowler would experience an embarrassing two-putt and ended up with a bogey. And, as if this wasn't bad enough, Garcia had three putts on the same hole and a humiliating double bogey. Shortly afterwards, one of the volunteers informed me that this particular hole was the greatest handicap on the course. According to him, there had been a dozen bogeys on this very green since the day before.
As Tiger continued to warmup, patiently awaiting his official permission to start, I couldn't help notice to our left that the fairway was lined up with hundreds of people on the side lines, anxious to view Wood's first drive of the day, many of whom would follow him to each and every hole. The swarms of followers standing there watching his every move was an awesome sight; something you don't see on television and can only appreciate in person.
Finally the time had come; it was 1:10 and it was announced that Tiger Woods was the next golfer to tee off. He shook hands with the master of ceremonies and proceeded to the tee ready to swing. When one thinks of the ridiculous challenges this game incurs and how incredibly inconsistent the best golfer can be, we can lose sight of the fact that the added pressure of being watched by the thousands of spectators in attendance and the millions of fans on television is indescribable.
And yet, like every other professional out there, Tiger tightened his stance, embraced his club and approached the ball with profound concentration. His club performed like a weapon, the ball accurately traveling at an incredible speed directly to the center of the fairway at a formidable distance. The amazing thing is he used an iron for his drive. Honestly, after he hit the ball, my eyes were not fast enough to follow exactly where it went, but we all knew soon enough where it landed. Woods was in a nice place on the fairway and we all anxiously left our seats to follow his next stroke. The only problem was, unless you were at least 6 feet tall, you couldn't possibly see the action as the spectators had grown even more densely populated.
I missed the cutoff by at least 3-4 inches ... so I stood on my toes to try and see where the ball would land next. Again, I could not see where he hit, however by observing the reaction of the crowd, I knew he was close to the hole. As everyone proceeded to the green to witness his putting, I remember hearing a lady remark, 'Why is everyone following him?' I wanted to say something to answer her question, but at this point, if she didn't know the answer to that question, there was no way of satisfying her curiosity. Wood's partner was Hideki Matsuyama and his result on that first hole was par with a two putt.
Tiger waited patiently for Matsuyama, and as before, the crowd prevented me from seeing how close his ball landed to the hole on the green. Again, I stood on my toes and watched him putt what seemed to be a very short distance. The spectators cheered and next to me, an older man announced, 'That's what I'm talking about!" Tiger had obtained a birdie on the first hole where many of the other players had struggled, especially his old friend, Sergio Garcia!
Ironically, as things were starting to look up for Tiger, the rain was starting to come down incessantly. We'd been there since early morning and we got to see at least one hole with Tiger Woods, not to mention some of the other great golfers. We had enough at this point, especially since it kept raining, and so we departed.
And you know the rest of the story. The rain would cease and Tiger Woods would go on to score a remarkable 61 to tie the course record and end up in first place for the day with an incredible 9-under achievement.
Tiger Woods is just another man, with personal imperfections and many inconsistencies in a game that thrives on inconsistencies and is thus profoundly competitive. However, anyone with an appreciation for skill, perseverance, longevity and constant success knows the answer to the lady's question. We follow him because he is one of the greatest golfers that has ever lived!
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Jim Vincent lives in West Ellicott.