It was not the opening act many had envisioned for his first official round in the Philadelphia region, but it was still some show.
Very little is left to chance with Woods. His 30-minute routine on the range seemed perfectly choreographed - short irons, long irons, fairway wood, driver, in that order. Once he felt comfortable, he was on to the next club.
He never topped any shots. Clearly, he is not familiar with my game.
The practice putting green looked like a mini-racetrack shortly after dawn - lots of traffic, balls going every which way. Somehow, Tiger and the others always knew which ones were theirs. I felt like I was watching a game of three-ball monte.
Tiger's round begins
Tiger's tee time was 12:56. He was paired with Dustin Johnson and Davis Love III. Johnson seemed to have the U.S. Open won 2 weeks ago. And then he didn't. Love won the 1997 PGA at Winged Foot. He is on the precipice of the Hall of Fame. It was a formidable trio. At least, it looked that way before they started hitting balls.
As the trophy with the Liberty Bell sat off to the side of the first tee, a crowd 20 deep up to the clubhouse behind it and fans lined up fairway to green, Woods crushed his drive down the middle and then hit a perfect iron a few feet from the hole.
"You are back," a man screamed after the iron shot.
He knew - after two shots.
Turned out he was a bit premature, even though Tiger's short birdie putt was perfect.
I can't compare walking a golf course with Tiger Woods to anything I have done. I know exactly what he's done because I have followed so closely on television since I saw him win the first of his three U.S. Amateurs at Sawgrass in 1994. To see it in person is a completely different experience.
Walked the front nine with him on Tuesday during a practice round, the back nine with him during the pro-am on Wednesday and now I was in for all 18.
The crowds on those early holes were leaning out over the ropes just to get a glimpse. They were jammed into the yards of the nearby houses. Clearly, they wanted to be in on something most of them had only experienced from their living rooms.
What you won't ever get from TV is the sound the ball makes coming off the tee. Imagine a few thousand snakes or a small jet taking off outside your window. It's like this - sssssssssss. And then you lose sight of the ball. Or at least I do.
Walking down fairways
Golf fans are also regular sports fans, which is why somebody asked the following question as I was walking down the fifth fairway: "Did they cut Vick?"
There was, of course, only one appropriate answer. "Gone."
One guy wanted to know if Villanova was going to make the Final Four next season.
I told him I thought it would be best to wait for the opener before making that determination.
I had one of those inside-the-ropes passes. The up-close view felt a little like being at a basketball game. Only the ball was much harder to follow and the crowd was much more polite.
Tiger was not pleased with his tee shot on the fifth, a par 3. It landed 61 feet from the hole, separated by ridges, curves, just about the farthest spot on the course from the clubhouse, a position of little hope. The putt went up, down, around and in. The huge crowd around the green exploded.
That was fortunate, but just about every shot had been pure. All was right with the world.
Who does this? Drive into the woods. Second from the woods to a greenside trap. Third blasted to 6 1/2 feet. Downhill par putt in the hole. That would be Woods, Tiger.
View from the back
I stood behind the tee on the eighth, a par 3 over water. Tiger's shot was to the left of the green, down a swale. I had watched Woods practice putts from the exact spot on Tuesday. He putted up the incline and down a slope to within inches.
I figure Woods and Johnson, who made a very nice recovery from a disastrous start, hit 700 yards worth of drives on the 605-yard ninth. If Johnson had been playing by himself with nobody in front, he would have been done in an hour. It seemed like his drives and irons were on their way before his partner's previous shot came to rest.
Starting to tire
I was giving myself a 100-yard head start on the players as they got into the back nine and found myself getting passed well before they caught up with their drives. I was like a speed horse that had set hot fractions and had little left.
My final total, counting approximately 10 trips from the driving range to the first hole on Tuesday morning trying to find Woods, who was in his plane at the time, and four holes on Monday, would be 18,000 yards, or 10.2 miles. And everybody at Aronimink is thrilled I did not hit a single ball.
Hitting the wall
The galleries began to thin out on the way back in - until the players got to the overflowing stands on 17 and 18.
DL III was going badly on the way to worse. He would finish with a 78 and trail the field.
Johnson was hitting the ball forever and playing beautifully.
Tiger was hanging. And then he wasn't.
He needed three shots from just off the green on the 14th, a par 3. He hit three bad shots in a row on the 16th, a par 5. And missed a par putt. Then, in front of a massive crowd, he pulled a 6-iron on 17. It came down the bank into the water.
"I was trying to lean on a 6 and overcooked it," Woods said later.
Tiger knew it when he hit it, leaning out to his left, as if he was trying to pull it back. His next shot was from the drop zone. Double bogey.
He played the back nine much better in Wednesday's pro-am. Yesterday, he played the two par 3's and one par 5 on the back in four over.
"If I keep hitting it like this, I'll be fine," Woods said. "The putts will start going in. It felt good to drive it on a string again."
Woods hit a perfect approach on 18. He had what looked like a reasonably simple short, uphill birdie putt. It lipped out.
Exactly 4 hours and 40 minutes after he began, Tiger Woods was done for the day, three over par, 80 players between him and the lead, setting the stage for a ridiculous comeback or an early exit that was not anticipated and certainly would be not be welcomed by anybody who has yet to see the show.
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