All eyes on Tiger as he gets in some Merion prep

Tiger Woods practices from a bunker at the 15th hole during practice rounds at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Course, Monday, June 10, 2013(David Swanson / Staff Photographer)
Tiger Woods practices from a bunker at the 15th hole during practice rounds at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Course, Monday, June 10, 2013(David Swanson / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 12, 2013

The skies calmed down for a bit, the squeegee and rake artists did their thing, and Merion was open for business. Because of an early rain torrent, Monday's U.S. Open practice round began at 11 a.m.

At 10:55, a lone golfer standing on the 13th tee just down from the clubhouse asked whether he really had to wait until 11.

"You can do whatever you want, Tiger," a marshal replied.

So the first ticketed practice round for this week's Open began with a Tiger Woods tee shot that took a single soft hop before it squeezed back toward the pin, stopping 10 feet behind it.

Pumped to see a golf shot by anybody, let alone Tiger, the crowd cheered as if it were Sunday afternoon. Woods took another shot from the front of the tee, to similar effect.

Woods played alone, going through a standard practice-round routine, putting to various spots marked by a tee put down by his caddie, Joe LaCava, working on chips and bunker shots to those expected pin positions.

He played only the 13th through 18th holes before hitting the putting green. The rest of his work day was spent at the driving range.

During Woods' six holes on the course, his gallery became more congested with each practice putt. A member of the Merion grounds crew behind the wheel of a John Deere golf cart struggled to maneuver through the crowds.

"Gotta stop everything when Tiger's on the green," he said to no one in particular.

Just as the cart pulled out through an open lane between a line of spectators and soggy grass, Woods tossed a ball onto a small slope on the edge of the left side of the 15th green. He scratched his chin and gazed down as the ball slowly rolled back in his direction.

It was a working session throughout as Woods continually asked questions of his caddie. As Woods arrived at two of his three tee shots off 15 - both balls lying along the left edge of the fairway - he pointed to the rough just a few feet from his ensuing approach.

"That's out of bounds there," Woods said to LaCava.

At the next tee, a middle-aged man with a good-ole-boy vibe going - and some golf knowledge he was happy to share - explained how the famed Quarry Hole needed to be played as Woods stood on the tee.

"You've got to hit it right or left," the man said to a buddy. "He ain't got the [guts] to hit it straight."

As Woods prepared to hit, the man said, "He's playing alone?"

"You want to play with him?" his buddy asked.

Woods striped his 3-wood down the right center of the fairway.

"Oh, wow," his would-be practice partner said, bravado vanished.

It turns out guys who yell, "Go in the hole!" at tee shots and "You the man!" a split-second after Woods follows through also need their warm-up rounds. One Woods fan was partial to yelling, "Let the Big Dog eat!"

It wasn't a complete circus. Most of the crowd consisted of golfers who knew how to watch golfers, and seemed to enjoy the chance to see Woods' practice regimen. Most listened at each tee box when a Woods entourage member asked that photographs not be taken until Woods had finished his swing.

For that hour-plus, most eyes seemed to be on the lookout for one man, including the volunteer who claimed to have no interest in seeing Woods. Then he crouched down to see whether he could see Woods.

At the corner of Ardmore Avenue and Golf House Road, a small line of young autograph-seekers was staked out, awaiting golfers coming off the first green. Abby Anderko, 13, of Monroe, N.J., and her friend Alexa Romanella, 12, got a bunch, including Sergio Garcia's and Darren Clarke's.

Woods never crossed to play the holes on the other side, but Anderko asserted that she would obtain his autograph.

Romanella's godfather, Jim Matera, threw some water on that little dream.

"You've got a better chance of seeing God," he told her.


Contact Mike Jensen at mjensen@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @jensenoffcampus.

Staff writer Mike Still contributed to this article.

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