Following Tiger Woods at the Open

If Tiger Woods wore a dreadlocks wig and a 49ers No. 38 uniform with the helmet visor, you’d have absolutely no idea he wasn’t Dashon Goldson. That’s how big the guy is, and I saw just how ridiculously built he is (especially for a golfer) this afternoon at CordeValle for Tiger’s first tournament since the PGA Championship almost two months ago where he missed the cut.

In the beginning, Eldrick looked like he was back to the Tiger of old. He hit a nice drive down the left side of the fairway on Hole 1 as the crowd grew exponentially once he appeared in the tee box. He stuck his approach within three feet of the pin and easily putted in for birdie, as the crowd went wild. You had to wonder if poor 19-year-old Patrick Cantlay even had a chance, being an amateur in Tiger’s group along with Louis Oosthuizen.

By the end of the day, both the first and last sentences of the previous paragraph turned out to be completely wrong.

I watched Tiger’s birdie at 1 from behind the green, and then skipped Hole 2 (and the huge crowds that followed Woods’s every move) and went to the tee at 3, where I got right up against the rope. When Tiger walked up with the rest of his group he walked right up to about six feet away from me, and holy s—. He was wearing a black vest over a white long sleeve compression shirt, and his arms look silly they’re so big. Muscles on top of muscles. He doesn’t just look different from every other golfer. Tiger looked like an alien from another planet compared to the gallery (myself very much included). Before hitting his tee shot, he pulled out what the gallery thought was gum, but the package said “glucose” on it so I’m guessing they were an energy chew of some kind. SO FUTURISTIC.

Tiger was also wearing some interesting spikes — they looked like those super-flexible Nike Free shoes with spikes on the bottom. Almost like slippers, and I’m sure at least 100 people of the thousands on the course today probably ran to their nearest golf store and either bought or ordered a pair after watching Tiger’s round. (Sorry for no original photos or video — that was STRICTLY forbidden on the course. I even got scolded for checking my email next to the first green when no players were within 200 yards.)

What about Tiger’s round, you ask? Do we have to? Okay, I followed Tiger for 9 holes, got rained on quite a bit on Hole 4, and watched Tiger look much more human than his body would lead you to believe. Tiger had to scramble to finish 2-over on the day, with Oosthuizen finishing at even par and Cantlay finishing tied for 11th at 2-under.

The first and only other time I’ve seen Tiger in person was at the 2000 AT&T Pro-Am, back when he used to play that tournament. He wasn’t quite as big back then, but he was unquestionably the best golfer in the world, with a violent hip turn I couldn’t believe at the time … or still. Tiger won that tournament, along with about 44 other tourneys that year. Now you notice him for being a global icon and large physical presence, but his game isn’t all that special. Paul Casey, who was in the group in front of Tiger’s, looked like a much more talented player in the limited time I watched.

On the other hand … Cantlay, a sophomore from UCLA and the top-ranked amateur in the world, is the truth, the future and whatever else you want to call him. He’s slight of build with arms about half the size of Tiger’s, and he consistently out-drove Tiger. More accurate, too.

Still, it was pretty cool to see Tiger hit golf balls up close. Along with seeing him off the tee at the Par 3 third hole, I also stook about 15 feet directly behind him when he hit driver on Hole 8 and drilled a nice drive down the left side of the fairway. He says he’s playing more golf now than before because his body can handle it. However, after leaving CordeValle, I couldn’t shake the feeling that while the novelty of seeing Tiger come back and play will be something I’ll remember, seeing Cantlay play at the very beginning of what should be a long, great career wasn’t bad either.

I also left wondering if Tiger would make the cut, or ever win another tournament. He finished his first round tied for 84th. Maybe he’ll have time to come help out the Niners’ secondary against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

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