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Only hard-to-miss fan makes any noise in Tiger's opening 74 at Players

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist

Tiger Woods needs a big round Friday to avoid consecutive cuts for the first time as a pro. (AP)  
Tiger Woods needs a big round Friday to avoid consecutive cuts for the first time as a pro. (AP)  

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- This type of thing doesn't happen often, where something outside the ropes swallows everything within, but in the occasionally surreal career of Tiger Woods, the typical rules often do not apply.

A distinctly rotund, lava-lunged woman was following the former world No. 1 all day, and was making no secret of her level of adoration for the 36-year-old. Make no mistake, the players in Tiger's threesome were tracking the hilarity, too, as Woods had to repeatedly fight a smirk.

In fact, as Woods played his final hole at the Players Championship on Thursday, the woman waited along the ropes chattering away, and Hunter Mahan's caddie, John Wood, walked over, put an arm on Woods' shoulder, and began busting his chops about it as they tried to suppress their laughs.

"Are you kidding, we have been talking about it all day," Wood cracked as they walked off the green.

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When Woods birdied the 17th, she began calling him "baby doll," much to the amusement of everybody within 100 yards -- because her voice easily carried that far. So, just to lighten the mood, we asked Woods afterward whether he thought Baby Doll might stick as a nickname.

"For you? No," he said, throwing it right back.

For him, he'd better hope not. But based on the way he's playing at this point, the guy can use every fan he can get, even the ones so large, they ought to count as two. In yet another completely forgettable day, Woods slapped it around in 74 shots and was bringing up the rear guard at T108 as he signed his card as the morning wave completed play.

The highlight of the day might have been his birdie at the 17th hole, as much for the cheerleading emanating from outside the ropes as the putt dropped and the woman bellowed, "That's my boy." Woods appeared to look directly at her, though she was rather hard to miss.

On the positive front, at least Woods completed the round. In his past two trips around Sawgrass, he withdrew before completing the full 18 holes, including a walk-off exit last year after shooting 42 on his opening nine.

At that point, he was nursing another leg injury, and the Woods World was spinning off its axis, so in comparative terms, his current malaise is no biggie. The female fan, though, she was a biggie for sure. In perhaps the kindest summation, a security guard tracking Tiger's group said: "Whoa." Woods' group needed the distraction, actually. Mahan also shot 74, and Rickie Fowler, who won four days earlier in Charlotte, shot 72. Maybe she kept a few folks from noticing just how ragged Woods' short game and finesse shots have become.

Not to pull the wings off a wounded butterfly, but Woods missed two greens with wedges in his hand. His chipping was, at times, almost amateurish. He left six putts for birdie or par short of the hole, by as much as 5 feet.

"Just one of those days today," he shrugged.

That's more than a little debatable. He missed the first green from 92 yards and the fourth from 132 -- and the rest of it was intermittently competent. If it was any worse, he'd have to switch to a belly wedge. Is there a better definition of mediocrity than a guy who hits nine of 18 greens and seven of 14 fairways?

That was the tally, as Woods failed to shoot a score in the 60s for the ninth consecutive round, and once again will do the cut-line tango for the second straight Friday.

Mounting a rally at Sawgrass would be a tall order if he was on top of his game, and that has rarely been the case at the punitive Pete Dye layout, where Woods has one top-10 finish since he posted his lone career win here in 2001.

There were a few testy moments as Woods' impatience got the better of him, for perhaps the bazillionth time. He dropped an F-bomb that was heard along the ropes 50 yards away after hitting a poor shot on the 15th from a fairway bunker.

He claimed a fan shot a picture with a cellphone as he hit a poor pitch on the third hole and reacted angrily.

"Not in my swing," he grumbled to everybody parked around the green. "Put the cameras away. Jesus."

Woods believed the fan hadn't put the device into silent mode, a persistent issue that cropped up more than once on the day.

"Guys were backing off, they got Hunter a couple of times today and Rickie once, I believe," he said.

They will be taking plenty of photographic mementos if Woods doesn't turn things around Friday. He missed the cut last week in Charlotte and only once before has missed two in a single season, back in 2005. He's never before missed the weekend in consecutive starts.

As the day wore on and scores rolled in after lunch, he was actually dropping farther down the leaderboard.

"It was frustrating in the sense that my good shots ended up in bad spots and obviously my bad shots ended up in worse spots," Woods said.

That leaves him with yet a second-round task that resembles the woman who tracked him so doggedly in the first round.

You know, large and unavoidable.


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