The sight of golf's hottest young property leading his cohorts down the 18th fairway last weekend could easily have been a dummy run for next Sunday afternoon. The general at the head of his troops was, of course, Tiger Woods, but the battle ground was far removed from the west coast of Scotland.
Cog Hill Golf & Country Club on the outskirts of Chicago is normally an oasis of gentility within the bustling Windy City. The Motorola Western Open has long been one of America's most prestigious titles, and Woods was in the process of securing his fourth US tour victory of the year. But still the hordes flocked after their hero so vigorously that you were prompted to wonder how enthusiastic they would have been had they actually been watching a major.
The fact is that Woods is in danger of being mobbed whenever and wherever he tees up. Not even Arnold Palmer, when he became golf's first superstar in the late Fifties, was greeted with such adulation. Consequently the US tour now has two sets of security programmes - one for events in which Woods plays and another, much lower key, for those he misses.
His group is always accompanied by three times as many marshals as the next most popular match, and even then the "You're the man" and "Get in the hole" merchants are barely constrained. Many of them don't even bother to wait until he has struck the ball before screaming their inanities and, having incurred the young man's displeasure, they then have the cheek to crowd him as he walks by in the hope of extracting an autograph. No wonder Woods' sculptured grin sometimes looks a little forced; the grim expression on the faces of his minders tells the true story.
Royal Troon and Royal & Ancient have all this to look forward to over the coming week. While reluctant to reveal their precise plans for combating the Woods phenomenon, the organisers acknowledge that extra stewards will be assigned to him. "We will assess the situation as it goes on to see whether we need to put more people in," was as far as a spokesman for the championship secretary, David Hill, would commit himself.
However, the likelihood is that the R&A's biggest headache will stem from the decision six months ago to allow under-18 spectators in for free. Youngsters turning up on the day must be accompanied by an adult to obtain admission, but those who have acquired tickets in advance are not subject to the same restrictions.
Traditionally, British crowds are as polite and as well-informed about golf as their transatlantic counterparts are not. But Woods's public is international and, like their hero, larger than life. At least two US tournaments this season have attracted final- day attendances in excess of 100,000 because Woods has been on the premises. It therefore seems a fair bet that, weather permitting, the four-day Open record of 208,680, set at St Andrews seven years ago, will come under threat if Woods is in contention. Hopefully, the 800 marshals hired for the week are up to the challenge.Reuse content