Inside the circus of playing with Tiger
If you’ve never seen Tiger Woods play golf live then it’s almost impossible to imagine. Great swathes of people moving en masse, emptying and filling grandstands at his beck and call, shouting encouragement, spouting rubbish, holding hands out for a low five, craning necks, standing on buggies, perched on friends’ shoulders, anything just to see him.
He’s 42 now, he hasn’t won a major for more than 10 years and he’s just got back into the world’s top 50 but he’s still The One. Forget DJ, Spieth, Rory, JT or anyone else – Tiger moves the needle for both the fans and his peers alike.
The most impressive aspect of Francesco Molinari’s Open victory was that he did it playing with Tiger. When the draw comes out the one name you simultaneously do and don’t want to see next to yours is WOODS, Tiger.
It’s hard enough playing behind or ahead of him, to be part of the circus is an absolute head-muncher.
Rory McIlroy knows a thing or two about pressure and expectations, he’s probably next on the superstar list, and he said earlier in the year, after being paired with Tiger at the Genesis Open, that it would cost Woods two shots a tournament.
“It might always have been like this like the whole Tiger-mania and these dudes, but I swear, playing in front of all that, he gives up half a shot a day on the field,” McIlroy said.
“You’ve got a six-foot putt and they’ll shout ‘It doesn’t break as much as you think!’ Just stuff like that – stuff they don’t have to say. Whoever is teeing off at 8.30 in the morning doesn’t get that and can just go about his business and do his thing. Tiger has to deal with that every single time he goes out to play.
“It’s two shots a tournament he has to give. So whether that calms down the more he plays and it doesn’t become such a novelty that he’s back out playing again I don’t know. But it’s tiring. I need a couple Advil. I’ve got a headache after all that.”
Woods, who believes that he might have won even more without the additional hullabaloo, was on the wrong side of a mistimed comment on the 72nd tee on Sunday.
“Yeah, I flinched but I’ve had things like that happen a lot in my career with people who just tried to time it. Either that, or they’re a little bit over-served. They tipped back a few, and it’s late in the day.
“Unfortunately, that’s part of what we have to deal with in today’s game. People are trying to yell out things to try to be on TV or be in social media or whatever it may be. That was too close to the game of play.”
Russell Knox won two weeks ago in Ireland, picking up $1 million, is a top-50 player in the world and he also has a WGC win on his CV.
But in among all his successes and six years on the PGA Tour he had never been paired with Tiger until Carnoustie.
“I felt good out there, but obviously my swing, it was just like I had too much tension. I just wasn’t letting it go as normal,” he said.
“I’ve played in front of loads of people for the last eight years. But it’s a little different knowing who you’re playing with. I think he’s the best golfer of all time. He’s definitely the person I looked up to. So getting to play with him is pretty unique. I’ve seen him on the range in the past, and I mean, he’s almost like a mythical figure.”
Knox bogeyed his first two holes en route to an opening 73.
“To be honest, I thought it would be worse. “You kind of expect the worse and hope for the best. If I had shot 80, I would have thought it should be more. I feel like I should know what I’m doing. It’s cool playing with Tiger, but I’ve got to get over that.”
Nobody does head down and walk ahead better than Tiger but you know that everyone is acting a bit different around you, you know this might well be the highlight of plenty of your playing partners’ careers and you know that, even inside the ropes, it will never be normal.
Normal, for Tiger Woods, disappeared while he was still an amateur.
“I wanted to chat with him a little bit. I was like, yeah, I’m out here with Tiger for five hours, might as well talk to him. Obviously he wants to beat me. I’m a threat to him. I could make him not win this tournament. So I didn’t expect him to help me through or whatever. He’s trying to bury me by 20 shots, as I’m doing with him.”
Shaun Norris, a big hulk of a man, plays most of his golf on the Asian and Sunshine Tours and he was at Carnoustie courtesy of tying for 3rd in the Joburg Open. The 36-year-old was paired with Tiger on Saturday.
“When I saw the pairing there is nothing you can do other than take it on and get up on the tee and play. It’s crazy. Absolutely crazy to think so many people can follow a person. It doesn’t feel real.
“The first couple of holes were only about five or 10 deep in the crowd. Round about the turn, it definitely moved to 15, 20 deep on each side. Definitely something I wasn’t used to but it really was a pleasure to play with him. He was really good fun to hang around with. The only person who was disappointed was my mother who couldn’t get inside or close enough to the ropes to watch it.”
Norris played exceptionally to be round in 69, to Woods’ 66, and he made the most of his moment in the sun.
“I asked my caddie to grab a couple of gloves and get him to sign them for my best friends at home. They absolutely love Tiger so they’re pretty nice presents to give to them.”