Originally created 03/19/00

Following Woods a treacherous trail



ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Masters, our little invitational golf tournament on the green acres of Augusta National Golf Club, will have a champion in three Sundays from today. His name may be Tiger Woods or not.

But it's always advised to begin your Tiger preparation early, whether it be by printing special glossy newspaper sections in his honor, or with devising a game plan to secure his coveted signature on that photo you may have snapped of him.

Then there's the real trick, mapping out a schematic as to how to be an eyewitness to every awe-inspiring swing and putting stroke from the world's best golfer during one of his four-hour rounds.

Well, I tried blazing my own Tiger Trail for nine holes Saturday at Bay Hill, only to walk away wondering whether I was watching Tiger shoot 2-under or watching police officers in forest green uniforms with loaded hand guns execute their academy training.

For the uninitiated, trying to see Woods' swings up close is like trying to shake hands with the pope while he's standing in his bubble. Tiger's Pigpen, and all his followers are the swirling cloud of smoke that never goes away.

Has Tiger hit? Where is he? Is he smiling, or pouting, or cursing under his breath, or chomping on a banana?

His gallery would like to know.

"Why are we following him?" says a wife to her husband as they walk along the ropes at the par-5 sixth. "I can't see anything he does."

Welcome to the second wave of TigerMania, just as bad as the first. Maybe even worse.

When Tiger first announced his golfing presence with authority as a rookie in 1996, people flocked to him for the curiosity factor. They wanted to see this wunderkind, golf's first true superstar prodigy, the one with whom greatness had been associated since he starred on The Mike Douglas Show at age 2.

And now that Tiger rules golf, and the sports world people no longer find him curious. They find him powerful. And they flock to him in droves, hoping to prosper like him, hoping to find some mystical secret of success in his aura.

Remember the 62,000-plus to fill the Georgia Dome to watch Michael Jordan? People bought tickets for seats in the upper decks and ones with obstructed views. They bought tickets to breathe the same air as His Airness, to be in the same room with him.

With Tiger Woods, it's not about watching golf. It's about trying to feel important. Tiger is the most important figure at Bay Hill, even more important than Arnold Palmer himself, so to be near him must make you important.

But being near him is the trick. Tiger's Troops can stand four- to five-deep on every hole, making the other 77 players traipsing around The King's famed grounds Saturday feel shunned. You could have pleasant conversations with the J.L. Lewises and the Brandel Chamblees as they walked up fairways alone.

With Tiger you could only get a whiff. Unless you plant your petunia along the ropes well in advance, you'll never see him swing. All you'll feel is the whoosh.

You'll know Tiger finally has connected when you hear someone who's had one too many Heinekens scream "GET IN THE HOLE!" every time titanium meets balata, be it with a driver, a 4-iron, a wedge or his putter.

And then you hear the pitter-pattering of feet, the ant hill marching on to create havoc someone else. It's the sound you'd hear when raindrops repeatedly hit a tent's canvas.

Rather than match Tiger stride for stride, I cheated a little and skipped ahead. Got to the par-4 eighth, where after 20 minutes of waiting, I got a nice view of Tiger's back. Wee!

My Masters advice: To watch golf, follow no-names such as Davis Love or David Duval. To watch Tiger, find out when the broadcast begins.

Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.