Only an eyeful of the Tiger

Peter Masters tries to keep up with golf's brightest star at Congressio nal
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The Independent Online
So gripped are the Americans by Tiger-mania that for the majority of the golf fans flocking through the gates at Congressional just a glimpse of the new phenomenon would send them home happy. A glimpse, as it happens, is the best many of them can hope for, since every move Tiger Woods makes, both on and off the course, is made under the watchful stare of just about every living organism within a radius of 100 yards.

Even from behind the darkened windows of a courtesy car, Tiger sees children point excitedly at their own reflections, tug at the shirt sleeve of their equally fascinated father and ask: "Are you sure he's in there, pop?"

The hype that surrounds this gifted 21-year-old can be quite frightening at times and one cannot help but reflect that this could only happen in America. When Tiger takes to the course, the operation that surrounds his journey from first tee to 18th green is planned, as far as it can be, with military precision. Rightly or wrongly, he is not treated in the same way as other players. His group takes with it twice the number of officials and there is restricted access for those writers covering his progress.

Keeping up with Tiger, for the spectator at least, is a frenetic experience. Crowds line every fairway, 10 deep in places, and as the phenomenon approaches the small strip of rough between fairway and trees becomes like Oxford Street at the height of the Christmas rush. It is impossible to witness every swing, so wily fans prefer instead to leapfrog several holes ahead, find a good spot, and then defend it for all they are worth as the tidal wave of hooping and hollering hordes flood past. The determination of the viewing public to catch a sight of young Mr Woods knows no bounds. There are people in the trees and others crawling on hands and knees hoping to get a view through a forest of legs. Perhaps the most inventive are those who poke their heads through under the grandstands.

Of course gaining a perfect vantage point does not necessarily guarantee success as the media circus at any major can scupper the best-laid plans.

Woods has up to 50 of the world's press following him around. An infantry creeping along inside the ropes bringing deep consternation to those members of the public whose previously unimpeded view has suddenly been obliterated. Add to them the photographers lugging their armoury of lenses and the prospect of enjoying an uninterrupted view of proceedings grows ever more precarious.

Woods, meanwhile, handles it all with aplomb. He has known little different in his short professional life and manages to stay largely oblivious to all the goings on. He is however, aware of the possible hazards his entourage can cause. "I feel for the guys who play in front of me and with me," he said, "People run from my group and sometimes distract them because they are moving all the time and their concentration gets interrupted."

A group of spectators waiting a hole ahead of Woods were among the few not interested in the young superstar. They were from Kent and were more concerned about their friend and European tour player Peter Mitchell.

"It was a bad draw for Peter because of all the noise," said David Holman as he watched Mitchell tumble to 13 over par and out of the championship.

Woods might be different to other players on the course, but he wants the same treatment off it. When he declined to speak to the press after his disappointing opening 74, he reasoned that anyone nine shots off the lead should not be expected to talk too much about it. "Greg Norman had a poor round, but he didn't have to give a press conference, so why should I? Why should it be any different for me?" For the answer to that question, he only had to ask 16-year-old Rebecca Herron. She was immediately recognisable in the gallery, dressed up in her school's mascot outfit - a tiger suit.