Penn Station, New York, Friday, 6.18am – “All aboard the Tiger Express for the US Open,” boomed the railroad announcer. “Don’t run; walk. We’ll wait for ya.”
Three extra Tiger Special trains were laid on to take thousands of Tiger fans from Manhattan to the US Open on Friday morning. The first left New York at 5.35am. I, ahem, decided to leave that to the diehards. Same for the 6.07am. I don’t do mornings very well. The 6.18am was quite early enough, thank you very much.
Fifty minutes later we are being herded off at Farmingdale Station and corralled through winding rat-run queues before being squeezed into a constant supply of free shuttle busses for a 10-minute ride to the course. “There he is, there he is,” squealed a hyperventilating kid to his pop. “Get a picture, get a picture.”
The ‘he’ was, of course, Tiger Woods but all this excitable jumping up and down was merely because Jnr had looked for, and spotted, nothing more than his hero’s name on the giant scoreboard by the refreshment stands. I never saw him again. He probably caught a glimpse of the real Tiger in the flesh and popped through sheer delight. Ah bless.
When Tiger trudged up the 18th fairway shortly before 11am, the “grandstand full” signs had been hung up for hours. Those without a seat could see just two things – diddly and squat – because thegreen is raised and so those left in the valley below saw nothing more than the top of Tiger’s hat covering his rapidly receding hairline.
Greenkeepers had toiled all night to soak up all Thursday’s rain with giant squeegy rollers, and probably tea towels and hairdryers, too. They got play under way on time at 7.30am but the 18th green still had a damp patch through the middle of it that looked like a map of Australia. The sort of result that teenagers fudge after a desperate attempt to mop up the spillage on the carpet from an all-night party held in their home while their parents were out of town.
A final-hole bogey left Woods on three over par and grumpy, and with his shoes and the bottom of his trousers caked in the slimy mud of the Bethpage Black Swamp course. “The way I feel right now, I don’t want to go back out there,” he said. The poor little lamb. And he won’t have to until Saturday.
If everyone finishes their second round by the end of Saturday, then it will be a 36-hole marathon on Sunday. What did he think about all those fans who had crawled out of bed to come out early to support him? “They were great,” was all he could muster. Gee thanks. Think I’ll have a lie in tomorrow.
Ian Poulter was rather more forthcoming, entering into the spirit of the event. Of course it helps to have played three shots better than Woods. “The crowds were great fun. It’s a real New York atmosphere; they’re cheeky,” Poulter said grinning. “I got a lot of stick about my pants (that’s trousers, obviously – he’s not out here parading in his undies).”
Those pants were, by Poulter’s standards, a rather low-key black and white checked affair. “Yeah, I can’t be too outrageous this week. I want to keep those New Yorkers on my side!”
If Woods doesn’t lighten up, those cheeky mud-splattered New Yorkers could quickly abandon him over the weekend and change platforms to get onboard the increasingly popular Mickelson Express instead.