At Buick Open, watching Woods 
a sport in itself

August 1, 2009


Tiger Woods reacts on the 18th hole during the first round of the Buick Open at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc, Mich. , on Thursday. Woods says one of the worst putting days of his career led to a lackluster 1-under 71 at the Buick Open. Woods, competing Thursday for the first time since missing the cut at the British Open, finished the first round tied for 128th on putts inside 10 feet in the tournament.


GRAND BLANC TOWNSHIP, MICH. - As the boom generated when Tiger Woods' driver smashes a golf ball echoed around Warwick Hills, another rumble was building.

Flocks of fans on either side of the fairway started heading downrange from the 15th tee to watch Tiger's next move. Only one problem: The rest of Woods' trio had yet to hit their drives and the lurching crowd of fans proved a loud distraction.

"Hold!" yelled marshal Scott Mcleod plaintively. "Hold after the shot, please!"

Later, he added: "All the golf etiquette leaves their minds as soon as the ball leaves (Woods') club."

Knowing it may be a decade before Woods is back in Michigan, the fans at the Buick Open are soaking in every last bit of his game. From ogling his stature as he walks down the fairway to roaring after his smooth putts find the bottom of the cup, watching Tiger has become a sport in itself at Warwick Hills.

While his torrid, 9-under 63 morning round made his entourage giddy, there is more than a bit of melancholy in the air: For longtime Buick Open marshals and fans, it's also Tiger's farewell tour.

Seizing a moment of relative quiet, Bonnie Hafner called out to Woods as he walked up the 12th fairway, earning a smile and a wave.

Seeing Tiger "is why we got up so early in the morning to come out here," said Hafner, 54, of Rochester, Mich. "I felt bad because I thought I disturbed him."

Tiger, though, was in a groove. Moments later, he drilled a course-electrifying chip-in for eagle.

The fan response that Woods evokes is a boon even for his playing partners.

"It's a great atmosphere to play in," said Jeff Arnold, who played with Woods on Friday. "Obviously, sometimes you feel like they're not watching you, but they end up rooting for you if you end up playing good."

Woods' smoking birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie start did much to dispel an uninspiring 1-under effort Thursday and his missed cut at the British Open two weeks ago.

Standing just behind the rope on 16, Randy Flynn asked his grandkids, Kyra, 12, and Aidan, 8, if they ever thought they'd get so close to Tiger Woods. Wide-eyed, they shook their heads. "No way," said Kyra.

"It's the only sporting event you can be as close as that" to a superstar, Flynn, 57, said. "He's more than a golfer, he's a celebrity."

Part of watching Woods up-close is the realization that television doesn't do his physique justice.

As Tiger surveyed the fourth green at Wednesday's Pro-Am, 10-year-old Robert Ferguson couldn't believe Woods' thick biceps.

"Dang! Look how big he is," Ferguson, of Bloomfield, Mich., said. "He's built like a dinosaur."

If reports that General Motors Co. is pulling its sponsorship of the event after a half-century of support prove correct, Michigan will be without a PGA Tour spot for about a decade, when the famed Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., could host the U.S. Open.

On the edge of what may be an almost decade-long drought, having Tiger Woods around is of significant consolation.

"If the tournament does end, what a way to go," said Aidan O'Donnell, 51, a 13-year Buick Open marshal.

Watching Woods stroll off the 14th green after making a birdie, he paused.

"It never gets old."

Associated Press