The Leader Board
Friday, April 07, 2006 :::
One round of The Masters done and Vijay Singh holds a one-shot lead over Rocco Mediate.
Gotta love golfers named Rocco.
Interesting that Singh wasn't getting a lot of notice before the tournament. It was all Tiger, and that's to be expected.
The last time my wife and I were at Augusta was 1997, the year Woods won his first green jacket. Having spent a lot of time on golf courses, usually out of bounds, looking for my damned ball, Augusta National was a genuine oddity.
It's far more colorful in real life. But nature is given as little sway as possible over the course's appearance. The waters are dyed to show up better on television. The azaleas blooms are kept back as long as possible by groundskeepers who pack ice around their bases. The grass -- even the "rough" is like a pool table's top...it's almost unearthly.
And even the out of bounds areas between the pines is manicured within an inch of its life. There are no pine cones littering the ground, nary a pine straw needle out of place. And litter? No a bit. That's ensured by a legion of yellow-clad volunteers who patrol the grounds constantly, or at least in-between peeks at the golfers.
Even the gallery (sorry, "patrons") is different. The early rounds seem to be slightly older. They are there to see the older players. When my wife and I watched a Thursday round, there was a group of older ladies nearby who practically giggled like school girls when Gary Player walked up to the tee. He was soooo dreamy!
But in '97, we went on Sunday to watch Tiger win. That wasn't really in doubt -- he had a commanding lead. But it became very obvious that the only way we were going to see anything was to camp out on 13 and watch the groups go by. The crowd following Woods was immense -- a great, swirling herd of people, some of whom would know a golf club from a baseball bat. But even we got caught up, for a few moments, in the swirl. And it was amazing.
We could hear them coming. The dull roar of countless people trudging after the bright new face -- the celebrity. Some of them had a tough time navigating the course, no doubt. I've never seen more mini-skirts and high heels on female spectators than I saw among those following Woods that day. And some of those who got separated from the herd and found themselves a hole or two ahead of the rest seemed deeply troubled. "Who is that?" one said, dismissively and a bit loudly. It was Tom Watson.
Oh, and Phil Knight, the former Nike Chairman, was in Tiger's tow as well. A tiny man who practically had to jump up to get a view of his multi-million dollar investment putting. Crowds are great social levelers.
But once we got a little separation from the mass, we saw a few truly fun things...like Tiger's caddy, puffing furiously on a cigarette between holes...a CBS crew member sprawled out on the grass, talking idly into his headset...the teenagers dressed in coat and tie with their dates.
But one thing above all else stands out. No, it wasn't the scalper who offered me five grand for my pass. It was from another round entirely.
My wife and I were sitting at 15, watching the groups tee off. Jack Nicklaus had just played and was striding up the fairway. Maybe it was just my imagination, but it looked like he was staring at me -- for a long time.
It must have been the red hair.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 4/07/2006