Monday, July 12, 2010

Tiger's here ... and looking relaxed in a 50mph gale!

THE smart money said he would turn up late - today or even tomorrow. Following his habit of previous Opens, he would avoid any curious onlookers by starting at the second hole rather than the first.And at an indecently early hour, when there was less chance of anyone mischievously bringing up any personal issues.
So what did Tiger Woods do? Only turn up in St Andrews yesterday, at the first hole, in the middle of the day.
As arrivals go, it could hardly have been more conspicuous had it been accompanied by a fanfare. What Woods was accompanied by at the Old Course was a wind so strong it would have forced suspension of play on a championship day, according to RandA chief executive Peter Dawson.
Gusting up to 50 miles per hour, it was "unplayable" at times, said Dawson, though Woods did not appear at all discomfited by the conditions.
If anything, he looked relaxed after choosing to return home to Florida last week to see his kids following his participation in the JP McManus Pro-am in Ireland. Yesterday, the first remark from the crowd which attracted his notice at all came when a senior citizen cried out "Los Alamitos", provoking a smile from the golfer - one of many, it should be said, on an afternoon which found him in an apparently light-hearted mood.
This, we learned, was Joe de Cavage from Beltsville, Maryland, a retired commander in the US Navy who had known Tiger's father - and indeed played against him at the Los Alamitos course in California - when Woods senior was serving in the army. "I played Tiger 20 years ago and kicked his ass," said Joe. "I knew his dad. His dad beat me more often than Tiger did."
This was confirmation that the world No1 was among friends. Those spectators who followed him around were respectful in the extreme, applauding politely where appropriate, otherwise maintaining a deferential near-silence, with not a mention of the domestic troubles which kept him out of the game for months around the turn of the year.
At first no more than 20 or 30 interested spectators, who had paid £15 each for the day's entry to the course, were there to watch him over the first couple of holes. Most had found him by chance, but a few, having done so, appeared very interested indeed. After teeing off at the third, for example, he took a quick detour to answer a call of nature, emerging from the Portaloo moments later to find most of the crowd still waiting for him.
By the 17th, the crowd had swelled to a couple of hundred, as more spectators gathered to see how the champion from 2000 and 2005 would deal with the one significant change to the course since the last time the Open was played here.
His first ball was despatched in traditional fashion, straight over the O in the words Old Course Hotel affixed to the building of that name. His second went further to the right, following the path that Henrik Stenson had taken an hour or two earlier, soaring above a paying guest who was capturing the action on a video camera from the balcony of his room.
Standing on the 18th tee, the wind now at his back as he waited to drive the 357-yard hole with a 3-wood, he was asked if he had ever played St Andrews in such conditions. "Nobody can play St Andrews like this," said Woods, in what amounted to his only public utterance.
The tailwind ensured that Woods and others of similar prowess came close to driving the green at that last hole. Then, just as it looked like he would complete his round, he turned tail and headed for the hotel.
If the occasional drive had been wayward, that was of no great concern.



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