Photo by Ben Standig for The Sports Capitol

Good-not-GOAT Tiger Woods still packs punch for Quicken Loans National

BY BEN STANDIG | JUNE 28, 2018

TPC POTOMAC — The majority of the 2018 Quicken Loans National field includes a who’s who of who’s that? Nobody cared. They arrived for Tiger Woods. The 14-time major champion is far removed from the larger than life, fist-pumping, hysteria creating, all-intimidating version. The incredibly human and good-not-GOAT edition teed off in Thursday’s first round. Nobody cared that this version was diminished.

They flock for Tiger. Fans walking the course were offered two distinct realities: Open space or rush-hour traffic. The latter occurred for anyone tracking Tiger, which seemingly meant 90 percent of all behind the ropes. “Is anyone else in the field?” one man asked steps away from where the group in front putted out. That threesome included No. 8 ranked player in the world Rickie Fowler.

Woods and Fowler scrambled for even-par rounds of 70, seven shots behind leaders Andrew Landry and J.J. Spaun. Contention remains in play, but the cutline is the tangible issue. The overall lack of star power in the field is such that if Woods and Fowler fail to reach the weekend, the TV trucks might just roll out of town early.

They still contemplate Tiger. Two middle-aged men joined the gallery on the 11th as Tiger’s wayward tee shot sailed right out-of-bounds and into the woods. With 214 yards remaining on the Par 4, Woods deftly chipped into the fairway. The safe play turned smart as his third shot landed one yard from the hole for a tap-in par putt.

“He was riskier Tiger,” one man sincerely announced to the other. “Now, smarter Tiger.”

“Mature Tiger,” his friend countered.

They search for Tiger artifacts. After Woods’ chip from the trees, one man sprinted to the spot as the former No. 1 player in the world walked on. Everyone takes selfies. This guy snapped one of where the two-time champion of this event’s spiked shoe left an impression in the dirt.

They dress for Tiger. Meet Chris Ferrell, a 20-something from Fauquier County. Among the hordes of fans tracking the Woods, only one walked the course wearing a full-body polyester tiger costume. Chris, whose case of Tiger fever took hold for good after Woods’ remarkable 2008 U.S. Open 18-playoff win over Rocco Mediate on one good leg, said this was the first time he made such a fashion choice. Some in the crowd looked at the man walking in the tiger suit as temperatures chased 90 degrees, questioned if illness played a factor in the choice and fitted him for an IV with dinner.

Chris was going to the Tiger Tournament, so naturally, he first went to Walmart to buy a tiger costume. He walked the undulating course with peacock pride. Receiving acknowledgment and a golf ball from the man himself provided wings. Chris said he was good with fluids, claiming none were alcoholic. He remained “loyal through all the turmoil” that shook Woods from the infallible tree as the golfer’s adulterous life became tabloid gold. Chris believes Woods’ major count, stuck on 14 since that 2008 wow, will change. “He’s got a couple of more majors in him. Give him time.”

They call their parents for Tiger. Portions of the back-nine run past several McMansions. Along the 13th hole, one grouped holed up in an elevated back patio 50 yards from the tee box. As Woods began his practice routine, a young child hollered for someone who was either in another room, looking elsewhere or perhaps still sleeping off their Capitals championship hangover. “Tiger is here! Tiger is here!”

They still photograph Tiger. Countless phone cameras captured all 70 shots from Woods as patrons wanted their “I saw Tiger” moment saved forever. Professionals like USA Today’s Geoff Burke, a staple at all sporting events in the area, worked inside the ropes.

This could be the final PGA Tournament stop in town for a while because of lacking sponsorship. It’s always possible a while becomes forever. Burke’s official task meant focusing on the 120 golfers plying their craft throughout the 7,107-yard course. If he only sent back photos of Woods, it’s unclear if anyone not fond of Fowler or related to Landry or Spaun would care.

They are still amazed by Tiger. On the par-3 12th, the other members of Woods’ threesome, Marc Leishman, and Bill Haas, hit quality drives within 12 feet of the hole. Polite applause for each. Woods followed with a ball technically inside of both, but an official measurement might be required to determine the putting order. Based on the sound alone, Tiger’s shot was U2, The Rolling Stones and Beyonce at FedEx Field. The others were traditional folk music acts at the high school talent show.

They still care for Tiger. Woods labored through 13 holes with a 2-over score. The primary culprit, a double bogey on the 480-yard, par-4 sixth after his weekend hacker of a tee shot didn’t reach 200 yards. Opportunities for momentum-building birdies existed. Woods didn’t pounce. Groans from the faithful followed. His tee shot on the uphill par-3 12th left him 11 feet away. The subsequent putt didn’t find its home. “We still love you,” shouted a fan. Others expressed similar sentiments throughout the round.

Woods eventually gave them thrills with birdies on 14 and 16.

“I shot about the score I should have shot today,” Woods said. “I didn’t really have anything going through the middle part of the round, just hanging in there, hanging in there. Hit some poor tee shots and didn’t really give myself a chance. When I did, I made a couple birdies, which is nice, but I have do a better job to give myself some more chances.”

They worry about Tiger. Improved results occurred earlier this season including back-to-back top-5 finishes at the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational, though rockier since. This month marked 10 years since that last major title. Woods, who needs three wins to catch Sam Sneed’s all-time best mark of 82, hasn’t triumphed at any PGA Tour event since 2013. Merely playing golf anywhere counts as a victory. He played only one event the previous two years. Back fusion surgery provided hope. Woods acknowledged this week that a year prior he wasn’t sure if he would ever return.

He did. This version of Tiger Woods isn’t dominating golf. Ignore the championship hardware, the bank account and his application in the best-ever conversation with Jack Nicklaus and we’re talking about a player ranked 61st on the PGA Tour who is no more of a major title threat than dozens of others whose name those who only track Tiger would never know.

For those who ponder history, that part-of-the-pack resume isn’t impressive. Maybe that’s not the way to view the 2018 version.

“The guy is still one of the best players in the world,” Burke said moments after shooting Woods saving par on 18th despite hitting his tee shot far right. “Will he ever be what he was? It’s almost unfair to ask. They were comparing with Nicklaus and (Arnold) Palmer before. If somebody is just an amazing golfer now, that apparently isn’t good enough.”

Those who root for Tiger would love another emotional, tee-dominating, putt-sinking ride to the top. The longer the championship drought continues, and the tour’s depth grows, the harder imagining a major win becomes. The guy in the tiger suit says just be patient. Maybe he’s right.

Either way, those who walked 18 holes with eyes only for the former god-like golfer who is now a 42 year old just looking for a breakthrough win didn’t mind. They were there for Tiger Woods, no matter the version.

Ben Standig is a host, writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. This D.C. area native grew up rooting for all the local squads and dabbled in the professional media world after college before making a full shift to sports writing in 2005. Since, Ben has covered every team and big event in town for several outlets including the Associated Press, NBCWashington.com and Scout.com.

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