Woods living in presence

No shortage of security in Tiger's ‘public' debut

April 29, 2010|By Jeff Shain, Tribune Newspapers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One not-so-subtle sign that it takes more than one week to think anything regarding Tiger Woods might be getting back to normal, even on the golf course: Three uniformed police officers on the Quail Hollow practice green.

For a pro-am round. At 7:20 a.m.

Not just plain-clothes officers walking inside the ropes, each with a badge attached to his belt. We're talking full Charlotte-Mecklenburg police attire — pistols in holsters, handcuffs hanging off the belt in back, flashlights, walkie-talkies.

Three on the practice green. At least six along the first fairway — three on each side, stationed maybe 40 yards apart as the moving band of followers made its way from tee to green. At one point along the third fairway, four could be seen within 8 yards of each other.

No wonder Woods didn't sound too concerned about anyone trying to razz him.

"The people here have always been very gracious, very excited about this event," Woods said Wednesday after reacquainting himself with Quail Hollow Country Club's rolling layout. "There's no reason why that shouldn't continue."

The power of suggestion, apparently, doesn't hurt either.

The Quail Hollow Championship is the first "public" tournament of Woods' comeback from the sex scandal that turned his life into tabloid fodder. Though all went smoothly during his run to a fourth-place finish at the Masters, it seems the PGA Tour and tournament officials aren't taking any chances with a public given far easier access to tickets.

"We're not going to be scared to take somebody off the property," tournament director Kym Hougham said one day earlier, adding he expected any untoward comments will be met with warnings and not ejections.

Quail Hollow patrons offered little cause for concern Wednesday, though the response from those who followed Woods' group seemed rather subdued even by pro-am standards. Scattered cheers were mixed in with the applause that greeted his introduction, and good shots were acknowledged politely.

The closest thing to a dig came after amateur partner Jim Rathburn sank about a 15-foot birdie putt and Woods missed his from a shorter distance.

"Don't worry, you have a good partner!" someone shouted.

"You're right!" Woods called back. Everyone within earshot laughed.

It was that kind of morning, as Woods continued to make a better effort to at least make eye contact with fans — especially younger ones.

Compared with the security presence — the police count was 14 outside the clubhouse after Woods' round — the golfer didn't seem as concerned about the possibility of a few loudmouths breaking decorum.

"Whether they do or not, it's happened before," he said. "It happened before any of this (scandal)."

Asked if he's at the point where he can go back to a relatively normal life, Woods said he still faces "paparazzi everywhere" around his gated community back home. On the course, though, it may be getting a little closer.

jshain@tribune.com

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