'Tiger taunters' to be ejected from Open insists R&A – but only if they go too far
If Tiger Woods is hoping to receive the Augusta treatment at St Andrews he will be sadly disappointed. The Royal and Ancient's chief executive declared yesterday that the Open Championship will not turned be into "a police state" just because of the world No 1's sensitivities.
"We are not in a police state and people can say what they like," said Peter Dawson. "But if they start putting players off we have to take steps. They will be asked to stop and if they don't stop then eventually they will be asked to leave. But everybody gets a chance at the Open of correcting their behaviour. They're not just thrown out straight away."
What Woods makes of this "second-chance" policy will be intriguing. On the face of it, the R&A is giving licence to the "Tiger taunters"; particularly when the governing body's tolerant attitude is put alongside that of the green-jackets. Such are the controlled environs of the Masters that Dawson's "police state" analogy would seem very apt indeed.
Woods was flanked by security guards earlier this month as he made his first competitive appearance in five months and such was the intense scrutiny on the Augusta galleries that one innocent woman was asked by a guard: "Ma'am, are you the stripper?" The guard proceeded to pull out a colour photocopy containing pictures of Woods' alleged mistresses to check.
This heavy-handed approach, said Dawson, will not be in operation at the "Home of Golf". "Once the situation is reviewed, I would doubt very much there would be mugshots in people's hands," he said. However, Dawson does have some sympathy for his American counterparts. "The Masters had the problem of not knowing what to expect," he said. "If the Open Championship would have been Tiger's first event back, we'd be scratching our heads. We're very pleased not to be the guinea pigs."
Yet Woods – who has until the end of next month to submit his Open entry – could be forgiven for crossing the pond in trepidation. After all, he has already witnessed how unruly the St Andrews galleries can be in his presence. And he was an untainted icon back then.
When Woods won his first Claret Jug there in 2000, more than 230,000 made it the most watched Open in history. Alas, there was also a record number of streakers – five. One, a housewife from nearby Kirkcaldy, danced around the flag on the final green on the Sunday just as Woods' ball hit the putting surface. The mother of two had been apprehended by the time Woods had finished his victory walk up the fairway but pandemonium had broken out behind the world No 1. As fans surged forward to follow the champion in waiting, stewards tried to stop them and the scene became ugly. A steward was pictured throwing a fan into the burn.
But regardless of all this – and indeed of the possibility of a new record attendance being set with all the interest caused by Woods playing at the Open's 150th anniversary – Dawson is confident there will be no problem. He bases his optimism on the fact that by then Woods will have played at least five tournaments since his self-enforced exile. "But I could be wrong," he added.
Dawson recognises the fallout from the scandal. "It has had a negative effect on the game for a while now and I hope we can put it behind us," he said. "It's sad that he lost his way and he would be the first to admit he had." Since his infamous crash outside his home in November, Woods' on-course behaviour has also been criticised and Dawson noted that his club-throwing and cursing had "clearly deteriorated". "I am sure that when he looked at the pictures he was not happy with it either," he said. "But I think he is making a genuine effort."
Woods' temper will come under renewed focus in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week. The Quail Hollow Championship will be his second comeback event, but his first in front of what could be described as "normal fans". His reception when he tees off in tomorrow morning's first round in the company of Stewart Cink and Angel Cabrera is sure to attract widespread attention. Perhaps even as far away as Fife.
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