AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods did all his fans a favor Thursday. He wore pink. Hot pink! And thank goodness, because he was a hard man to keep track of at Augusta National.
Woods and that alarmingly bright mock neck polo were a roaming Main Event Thursday, to absolutely no surprise. It may have been the most captivating opening round in golf history, and it ended in an impressive 71 strokes, thick in the hunt. The only problem with the round was everyone wanted a piece of it.
So the pink helped, contrasting nicely against the hunter green that dominates this property. That’s about all the spectators had going for them. There was, unsurprisingly, swarms of people, 20-deep surrounding the 1st tee. Another former world No. 1, Annika Sorenstam, was milling. So, too, was a baseball great, David Wright. That’s normal. Abnormal was the two youngsters perched on their parents’ shoulders — a move Augusta National and all its decorum surely frowns upon. Abnormal, too, were the waiters and waitresses ignoring their duties as Woods’ arrival hung in the air. Thankfully, we were right between breakfast and lunch, and no one was dining on the veranda.
Abnormal was the pathway through the Pretty People. Around 11 a.m. Woods bounced through a basically empty clubhouse and exited to a parted walkway fit for Moses. Whereas Louis Oosthuizen bobbed and weaved through the folks with special badges — a handful of them with those special green jackets — a path had cleared for the chosen one before he’d even arrived. They say this man has gravity to him.
To follow Woods in his heliocentric universe, you needed to know this property well. There are brutal choke points between the greens and tee boxes. You had to get in front of Woods on 1 if you wanted to catch a glimpse of him teeing off 2. Two buddies got stuck in a logjam of patrons, moving slower than the lines at a theme park, so they crouched low to the ground and peeked through the leaves. Fifty yards away, that pink torso ripped through a 3-wood.
A crowd like this one makes you wonder what it is we’re all doing out at Augusta National this week. Witnessing history? Sure. Tilting the course? Undoubtedly. When Woods plays, people move. When people move, players get annoyed. When Mother Nature dumps nearly four inches of rain on this property, well, the sound of the day is sneakers going squish, squish, squish. So much that, as Woods’ followers scampered down from the 6th tee, Jim “Bones” Mackay had to ask the group to pause. The No. 7 player in the world, Justin Thomas, was 15 yards away and felt absolutely irrelevant.
James Piot, the U.S. Amateur champ, had never played in an arena like this one. He was in the group behind Woods, and pumped about it. “I made a comment yesterday, saying ‘Yeah, I’m playing behind Tiger Woods. It’s going to be a little tough.’ And someone goes, ‘It’s better to play behind him than in front of him. They’re, like, everyone is leaving when he goes through.’ That’s a good point. You kind of notice it even playing with J.T., one of the greatest and defending champion [Hideki Matsuyama.] And still people are leaving because they want to get ahead and go watch Tiger Woods.”
The clearest view of Woods came during his most vulnerable moment, when the man was relieving himself in a bathroom behind the 5th green.
“He’s like a zoo animal,” one spectator said as Woods was hidden in the lavatory. Hundreds of eyes fixated on the door as it opened. They all received their tickets to this show months ago, and had no clue Woods would be here, playing, until just days ago. They had acted with restraint throughout his opening five pars, as if cheering too loudly would wake us all up from some fever dream. So, Woods left the loo and walked in silence for 25 paces as the crowd once again observed him silently, thinking, What is he thinking?
“That was so awkward,” another patron added as the silence finally broke. Woods is good with the awkward. He stepped up to the tee, sized up the par-3 6th hole and stuffed it to a foot. Finally, two hours into this madness, the crowd got what they had worked for: a birdie, and a smile.
The tragedy of following Woods on this historic march is that it’s so much like taking an exam. What shot do want to see him hit? Where do you want to see him walk? Do you want to hear his voice? Choosing one often nullifies the others. If you watched his scrambling par above the 3rd green, you weren’t going to see him do the same thing on the 4th. The ropes and the fans and the rain make for limited, slippery, smelly, muddy movement.
One media salesman got caught behind the masses, hung up near the crosswalk of the 3rd fairway, and missed two business meetings under the big oak tree.
When it was all over, Woods took his time, waiting for 20 minutes before speaking with the media for another eight. Spectators waited patiently, five-deep outside the media bubble, happy to just get another look at the man in pink.
“We love you,” one shouted as it ended.
That’s sort of against the rules here — shouting things like that. But as you learn following Tiger, nothing is normal. Rules are broken. If you want a crack at it for yourself, he’ll have a Friday afternoon tee time. Go for it! You totally should. Just get your calves ready. You’ll be up on your tip-toes all day long.