Good Sport: Save the Tiger

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by Anthony Harrison

Davis Love III took his time on Sedgefield Country Club’s 15th hole on Sunday.

He read the green like a Russian novel, slowly and meticulously. His mid-range putt tiptoed into the cup for eagle, clinching the lead at 17 under par and eventually taking the 2015 Wyndham Championship.

It was the Charlotte native’s third Wyndham, but his first tour win in nearly seven years, and his victory marks the first time in 40 years a player aged 51 or over captured a PGA Tour event.

No one could catch up to Love — not third-round leader Jason Gore, not 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, not former Wyndham champ Webb Simpson.

Not even Tiger Woods could challenge Love’s lead.

Instead of witnessing a possible comeback, Greensboro’s thronging crowds watched a meltdown of golf’s former clutch king.

First, he drove his Hole 7 tee shot into the gallery, bogeying the par 3.

Things soon grew painfully worse.

Approaching the green on the 11th, Tiger landed in the fringe to the left. The routine chip turned into a catastrophe as Woods shanked the shot, sending the ball screaming past the hole into the rough on the other side. His next chip didn’t even roll over the berm of the green, and he wound up three-putting for triple bogey.

After another bogey on 12, three consecutive birdies did little to wipe the egg off his face, the damage done and irreparable.

It’s such a shame, too, after things went so well for him on Saturday.

After parking at a family friend’s house on the first hole, I caught Jim Herman and Martin Kaymer’s tee off with my cousin Ted at 1 p.m. Wisps of cirrus spread across the sky, and a light breeze softened the heat of the beaming sun.

Already, scores of people watched as Tiger Woods practiced on the putting green. A sea of fans split along the driveway as his cart scooted him to the driving range. The crowd was hyped to glimpse a living legend.

Anticipating the flood of Tiger fans, we walked down course and seated ourselves on a patch just past a small drainage ravine diagonally bisecting the fairway, figuring it would be a nice place to catch approach shots.

Love and his partner Chad Campbell landed just short of the ravine, and as they walked downhill, cheers and shouts of, “Tiger! Go Tiger!” could clearly be heard 250 yards away, even before his first swing.

Tiger’s iron glinted in the sun as he teed off, and the congregation wailed. His shot landed short in the right fringe, and a murmuring tide of gossip flowed down the hill.

But the mood shifted again as Woods neared his ball.

I must admit: Awe gripped me. After all, this was the same Tiger Woods who won his first green jacket in 1997 at 21, smashed the competition by 15 strokes at the 2000 US Open and defied physics with his birdie chip-in on Hole 16 at the 2005 Masters — and I’d seen it all happen live on TV.

Woods didn’t disappoint the lucky spectators on this hole, either.

While his tee shot proved inauspicious, Tiger’s second hit sat down eight feet in front of the pin.

Affirmations showered the man like rose petals as he strolled by, somehow regal despite holding his head low.

Even the songbirds and cicadas seemed to politely silence themselves as he putted, and when the ball dropped into the cup, the celebratory roar deafened.

Ted said he’d skip ahead to the seventh hole without watching the denouement, and after Woods’ birdie, I envied my cousin’s wisdom.

The Tiger Era has certainly passed, but you wouldn’t know it from trying to follow him that day. The amorphous crowd swelled towards the second tee, and I was caught in the middle of it all. Escaping Tigermania proved difficult as the mob folded me in as one of its own. I did wind up only a few yards away from Woods, close enough to see beads of sweat forming on his brow, but at risk of being crushed and trampled.

I feared I would simply live out my life in this claustrophobic new society awash in polo shirts and sundresses, watching relationships begin and fade, babies being born and elders dying.

I made it out, though, cutting through thick rushes and poison ivy to beat the head of the crowd and rejoin Ted at No. 7.

I must have looked dazed, because Ted asked, “You doing all right?”

I shook my head.

“It’s crazy in there, man,” I replied.

Tiger Woods is the Lancelot of golf. He was the golden boy poised to be the greatest until his fall from grace. The world’s been searching for such a dominant player for five years. Few pretenders have yet claimed the vacant throne.

My late father, with whom I watched many of Tiger’s shining moments, believed that Woods had a few big wins left in him, and while Sunday’s collapse doesn’t inspire confidence, no one knows what the future holds for Woods.

Hell, we might even see him back in Greensboro next year.

  • Nina Gilliam

    Great coverage Good Sport!