PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. » For all of the front nine, I ducked outside the ropes to be an ordinary citizen trying to watch Tiger Woods play golf at the 2010 U.S. Open.
It was an exercise in futility.
Unlike the Masters, where there are plenty of places to catch the action despite the enormity of the crowd, Pebble Beach doesn’t offer the same viewing amenities. Long before Woods made it to the first tee on this surprisingly chilly day on the Monterey Peninsula, the first hole was lined with more people than rush-hour traffic in L.A.
Packed five-deep for 380 yards on both sides of this cozy par 4, folks craned this way and that trying to catch a glimpse of the greatest golfer ever to play the game. Little kids sat on top of papa’s shoulders; reluctant girlfriends, who decided to see what this Tiger mania was all about, complained to their golfer halves that they’d rather be at Walmart on Christmas Eve.
When Woods, Ernie Els and Lee Westwood finally teed off, more than one interested golf fan asked others nearby, "Was that Woods? Was that Woods?" Those taller than Yao Ming gave a scouting report to the rest of us that it was indeed Woods who just hit his first shot right down the middle of the fairway.
You might as well have been in your back yard watering the lawn on Oahu as be among the thousands who spent $100 a ticket to watch Woods on the front nine. As far as the eye could see on this difficult opening side, people were packed in the grandstands stacked high into the sky by each green, while others huddled below, straining to see anything but the back of someone’s head.
Those who traveled along with Woods were met by those who opted to sit at one hole or another and wait for the great one to hit his approach or try to read these racing-slick greens. Birdies were hard to come by on this opening day, with Woods, like Phil Mickelson, not making a single one en route to an opening-day 74.
I forced myself to stay outside the lines, even when fellow media members beckoned me back inside, far away from the insanity of scrambling hackers dreaming of one day being inside the ropes. I trudged on, determined to watch the front nine with the paying customers, wondering why anyone would waste a C-note on this.
"DADDY, DADDY, I can’t see," one young fan said, pulling on his father’s windbreaker at the breathtaking par-3 seventh. "Neither can I, son. Neither can I," replied dad, who told his wife he’d be firmly planted in front of his TV on Father’s Day. No more method to this madness.
As for me, I’d positioned myself on a curb near the sidewalk that ran along the left side of the fairway on the 109-yard hole. The right side was the ocean with the back of the postage-stamp green protected by more ocean. Woods missed carrying the cliff by a nervous yard as his ball came dangerously close to jumping off before pulling back toward the hole. His 20-footer for birdie slid by, forcing a huge groan from these true fans of the game.
The famed Village Pavilion was packed with patrons as they watched Woods and Co. stroll down the eighth fairway that was as crowded as the opening hole. I crawled along what’s known as "The Cliffs of Doom" – Pebble Beach’s own Amen Corner – and saw why these three par 4s at eight, nine and 10 were so difficult.
Or tried to.
I must admit I ducked inside the ropes at the turn and remained there the rest of the way on this stunning back nine. Woods and Co. continued to struggle with their golf games, but at least I got to see each shot unimpeded by the fans who’d paid a lot of money to see so little. That’s not to say they didn’t have a good time.
Instead of being at work on this lovely Thursday afternoon, they were walking with fellow golf fans, taking in the scenery, basking in the glow of the sun that spent the day enjoying itself at famed Pebble Beach. I did too. Particularly all the shots I missed.