Golf: Stalking the Tiger

19 Jul 2001 16:36 GMT

NOW Sport's Andy McKenzie follows Tiger Woods on his opening round of the British Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

Woods: Popular figure with the crowds
Woods: Popular figure with the crowds
©Andrew Redington

Mission impossible was the thought which crossed my mind when given the task to spend a round at the British Open following Tiger Woods.

An early start on Thursday morning seemed to be my best chance to witness the man being dubbed the greatest golfer of all-time. Unfortunately I wasn't the only one with that idea as the crowds had already lined the course when the starter announced "On tee Tiger Woods".

It would seem I also came severely underprepared. I think a few English milkmen will be a few crates short of a full van this morning due to Tigermania. Everyone seemed to be using them to stand on in order to gain an advantage in the quest to spot the Tiger, and those that didn't had plastic chairs, periscopes, binoculars. There were even people with periscopes on milk crates.

Those that didn't have something to stand on were even more imaginative, hanging from neighboring grandstands, standing on rubbish bins and climbing trees in the hope of catching a glimpse of 'the man'.

Open Championship
It wasn't just golf fans who turned up to see the 25-year-old reigning champion. The press seemed to be equally captured by the man in black. Gary Lineker, the former captain of the England football team and now converted TV presenter, watched Woods' every move with the eagerness of a fan.

Despite the claims of his coach Butch Harman that he could win blindfolded, Woods opted not to cover up the eyes of the Tiger. He began in typical fashion with a birdie two on the first hole, not that I can tell you any more about it after finding myself stood behind what appeared to be three of the taller members of the Swedish basketball team.

"I can't believe I'm watching Tiger Woods. It's like seeing Elvis," said one wise man from the stands behind the second green, as the great man lined up his approach. At times it felt like I was more likely to see the former king of rock'n'roll than the current king of the fairways.

Tiger Team – Woods' minders who follow him wherever he goes – were also in flow, prowling the perimeter ready to pounce on anyone even considering putting a foot out of line. The last two British Opens have seen Woods encounter that age-old problem of naked women throwing themselves at him while out on the golf course. I was hoping a fake moustache and glasses would ensure I wouldn't suffer a similar fate.

One young fan had brought along a wood cover bearing a tiger's head (of the animal variety), presumably in case anyone was unsure who the crowds were all following.

A bogey at the fourth saw Woods slip back to level par and it was clear he wasn't finding things as easy at Lytham as he did at the home of golf in 2000.

Hidden Tiger
Woods: Frequent bunker visitor
©Ross Kinnaird
As the crowds began to flock onto the course and head in Woods' direction, it began to become more difficult to get a good view of Tiger in action. It didn't help that he kept on hiding at the bottom of Lytham's rather imposing bunkers.

A year ago, Woods managed to evade all of the bunkers at St Andrews as he strolled to his first British Open title. He found himself in six in his opening round at Royal Lytham, although he seemed as happy playing in the sand as he was hacking out of the deep rough that swallows up any stray tee shots.

By the 13th hole I'd had enough. The only way to determine if Woods had made birdie or bogey was from the reaction of the fans fortunate to have negotiated a vantage point around one of the greens.

I opted to watch the remaining holes from the big screen handily placed in the centre of the course for those fans who had forgotten to come equipped with a milk crate or two.

Tiger birdied the 16th and then finished par-par on Lytham's notoriously difficult final two holes to card a 71, a reasonable result considering he rarely hit the form everyone knows and fears he's capable of.

"It definitely wasn't an easy round today," he said, presumably meaning the golf, rather than the spectating. "I didn't really hit the ball the way I wanted to today.

"I feel satisfied. The way I played today I didn't put myself out of the tournament. Sometimes you need to gut it out and get around. And I was able to just hang in there today and persevere."

Unfortunately, I couldn't say the same.

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