FARMINGDALE, NY – Tiger Woods was waiting on the 15th fairway of Bethpage Black on Thursday to hit when retired Mets third baseman David Wright squatted a few of in a catcher squatted yards
A fan on the other side of the ropes asked Wright if he could take a picture with him. As Wright approached, he noticed that he was uncomfortable standing next to another spectator, an adult man dressed in a jumpsuit designed as a tiger costume.
Would Wright pose with the faux tiger? No, that man didn't lean in at all. His eyes never left Woods, who made his first competitive appearance since winning the Masters last month.
"I left my onesie at home," Wright said after posing and back to squatting
Wright is one of the most admired and loved sports figures in New York, but during the unequal opening round of Woods from two-over-par 72 at the PGA Championship, he was usually just a golf fan circling the Tiger Sun.
Woods turned off at 8:24 in the morning from the 489-yard 10th hole, one of the farthest spots in the clubhouse, but his flock still found him.
"I got nervous because I was on the driving range, the crowd was so big," Wright said.
Graeme McDowell, the 2010 United States Open champion, described the scene this way: "I think there were around 40,000, 35,000 following Tiger, 4,000 in the merchandise tent, and we might have had a thousand at the same time, walking through the holes to find Tiger. "
McDowell, of Northern Ireland, traveled about 30 minutes before Woods, in peace and tranquility on the other side of the track, with a 70 who left him seven battles behind the leader, Brooks Koepka, who tries to PGA from 2018 defend title. As much as McDowell likes to play for massage, he found it an advantage to play for relatively few people.
"It gives you the chance to stay under the radar and get your job done," McDowell said.
Woods, 43, has never played under the radar, in any case, much less a PGA Championship, which he has won four times, most recently in 2007.
His debut at the tournament came in 1997, four months after a 12-stroke triumph at the Masters for the first of his 15 major titles. One of those championships came in the 2002 United States Open at Bethpage Black, where Woods ended 15 strokes for a journeyman pro named Jason Caron, who stuck for the 30th.
Caron, 46, has not played a full season on the PGA Tour since 2003, but he was back on Bethpage Black on Thursday, in the field instead of in the tight galleries around Woods after qualifying with a finish in sixth place at the PGA Professional Championship.
Now the chief professional at Mill River Club in Oyster Bay, about 10 miles from Bethpage, Caron finished with an even par 70 on Thursday. Just like Woods, he has undergone many changes since 2002.
"If I saw Greg Norman or Tiger on the range, I would get a little nervous," Caron said about PGA Tour days. "That was part of my problem on the day."
On Thursday, he was tied for the 17th, 34 places for Woods. "Can I get a picture of that?" Caron said after his round. "It is awesome."
Caron did not get the photo, but his 6-year-old daughter, Caroline, left with a memento. Woods & # 39; s caddy, Joe LaCava, gave her the glove Woods had used in the round.
On the eve of the first round, Caron spoke to a friend, Brett Quigley, another former member of the PGA Tour, who said that Caron would find himself happy to start on the first hole and not on it 10th, a 500-yard par-4 with a waterway that is squeezed tightly by the fingers of sand.
"That could be difficult," Caron reminded Quigley to say.
Tell Woods about it. He was grouped with Koepka and the reigning British Open champion, Francesco Molinari. Finally beating, Woods hung his head when his ride at 10 missed the channel with less than one foot. From the right rough, Woods threw to the fairway. His third shot, 83 meters from the hole, flew the green. After cutting down to six feet, he stepped on a double six.
Woods got one of the battles back on the 15th, a par-4 that measured 486 yards when he found the fairway with his drive, and hit a stinger up to 16 feet and made the putt.
"That's sick," Wright said admiringly, looking at Woods & # 39; s approach.
Another double bogey at number 17 pushed him over to three, but birdies at No. 1 and 2 plus an eagle at number 4 – which required a foot of 31 feet – moved Woods to an underwater and sent his gallery in a madness. But then his wave of momentum collapsed. He bogeyed three of his last five holes.
"It was not as clean as I would like it to be, certainly," said Woods, who passed a planned nine-hole practice round last week because he felt ill, although he refused to attribute physical problems to his problems on the course.
"I feel good," said Woods.
Wright & # 39; s retirement from baseball was sped up by chronic neck, shoulder and back injuries, so that he can appreciate better than what Woods experienced during a trip back to the winner's circle after four back operations .
"I certainly have a lot of respect for what he is doing and prepare for those old problems," Wright said.
But he also immediately felt a connection with Koepka, whose great-uncle, Dick Groat, won the 1960 Most National League Most Valuable Player Award as the fastest stop for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Koepka fantasized about playing professional baseball as a child, but went on golf because he did not have enough power on the plate. He spent some time Wednesday with Wright, who said, "I wanted to play golf with him and he wanted to talk to me about baseball."
When Woods and his obsessive training sessions consider the age of golfers as undisputed athletes, Koepka, 29, picked up the mold and summed it up. He has won three of the last eight majors.
Koepka was in charge most of Thursday's round, but when Woods made his way through the track, the spectators shamelessly told him who they thought number 1 was.
The shouts directed against Woods include: "I play golf because of you, boss!"