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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 July, 2005, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Hunting Tiger
By Rob Hodgetts
BBC Sport at St Andrews

Tiger Woods
Even Tiger Woods' practice rounds have a big crowd watching
In order to bag a Tiger, you first have to think like one.

And those with jungle instincts were prowling around St Andrews well before his advertised 0700 BST practice time on Tuesday.

The sun rises early in this part of the world and crossing the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th fairway of the Old Course just after dawn on a bright summer's day is one of those moments a golf fan dreams of.

But we were not here to get misty-eyed. We were here to catch the world number one, who prides himself on scooting round early, away from the public gaze.

He is not an easy prey to corner, though. A handful of intrepid souls greeted each other at the first tee at 0530, but word soon went out that he would be starting off the second. Obvious really.

So off we scuttled to linger, swapping rumour and counter-rumour as to his whereabouts, all the while disbelieving that he could have sold us a dummy so early into the chase.

Even an illegal trip onto the roof of the St Andrews Links clubhouse for a view down the course yielded nothing.

And then we saw what we were looking for. It wasn't Tiger exactly, but the next best thing. A snapple (the correct collective noun, I believe) of photographers. This was a crucial development. No idle mooching about this time, but focused, serious waiting.

The players' mood was relaxed in a serious sort of way.

The talk was that Tiger was just finishing his breakfast in the Old Course Hotel, where he was staying alongside the 17th fairway.

So we loitered a bit more, even beginning to question the source of our latest hot tip.

And then he emerged, Thomas Bjorn that is, and strolled across to the practice ground.

But at 0624, Tiger was sighted and the chase was on.

He made straight for the second tee in company with close friend Mark O'Meara. And two policemen, four tattooed personal security guards, one coach, two caddies and a girl practising scoreboard-carrying duties.

The cosy, intimate group was met on the tee by Australian Richard Green and a crowd of about 100 expectant golf watchers.

The players' mood was relaxed in a serious sort of way.

Woods swished about with his driver, which sounded like a Flymo, according to one spectator.

And then at 0633 he launched a monster down the fairway to assorted early-morning "Oohs" and "Ahhs". Next up was 1998 Open champion O'Meara. But his effort was greeted by Woods' cheery, "Is that tee a little bit pink?"

Tiger's Open record
2004 - Tied 9th
2003 - Tied 4th
2002 - Tied 28th
2001 - Tied 25th
2000 - Winner
1999 - Tied 7th
1998 - Third
1997 - Tied 24th
1996 - Tied 22nd
1995 - Tied 66th

The left-handed Green went last, to Woods' earnest call of "Good shot there, Richard."

And off rumbled the Woods train, all 250 of them by now, and all before 0645.

"We've come a long way and we figured we had to see the best," said Brenda Henderson, on holiday from Adelaide, South Australia.

"It's more interesting watching practice, you get to see them interact a bit more. And it's not really that early when you consider how long it has been light for."

An intriguing sight was that of Ernie Els, the world number three, who timed his run from the hotel to perfection, crossing almost unnoticed behind the Woods caravan with a slightly bemused look in the American's direction.

So the pattern was set. A couple of shots to the green, a few putts from different places and on they marched.

The security goons buzzed about, O'Meara and Green chatted amiably, Woods was in deep discourse with his new coach Hank Haney and the crowd swelled even larger.

"Stinger," cried O'Meara, as Woods crashed another piercing drive off the fifth tee. "That was your hammerhead shark, right there."

The whirl of cameras after a Woods drive sounded like an old-style football fan's rattle. Green's drives, no less impressive, were greeted by the odd click.

On the 390-yard par-four seventh, Woods cracked another beauty with a hint of fade to within a few feet of the yawning chasm of Shell bunker, inch perfect, and still no sand in six-and-a-bit rounds, including all four days of his 2000 win.

Tiger Woods and caddy Steve Williams
Woods plots his next move with caddy Steve Williams

The 618-yard par-five 14th is one of the holes that is supposed to have been "Tiger-proofed" since 2000. Thirty-seven yards have been added to bring the Beardies bunkers and Hell bunker back into play.

But with no wind to speak of, Woods smoked his driver onto the safety of the Elysian Fields, leaving his shorter-hitting partners to flirt with the Beardies.

The 65-year-old Jack Nicklaus later said of the extra length on the hole, "That'll only affect guys like me."

The Woods circus came to an end about 1000 BST and he retreated back into his lair, leaving us privileged to have witnessed such a force of nature up close. Albeit with hundreds of others.

But as the crowds swell further this week and the mayhem increases, your best bet of a sighting might be to make like David Attenborough and get your Tiger fix from TV.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Tiger Woods



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