MARANA, Ariz. - Jerry Cardinal stands inside the ropes at the 18th green, mere feet from the putting surface, close enough to smell the sweat and the fear. This golf lifer has the best view in the house ...
Well, most days. This afternoon, the marshal captain just has a good look at a lot of nice blades of grass. Does that one seem a little greener than the others? And if Cardinal turns around, he can stare into rows upon rows upon rows of empty stands. They're green too.
"It's boring," Cardinal shrugs. "I can't lie and say it's not."
Welcome to the Tiger Zone. This is what happens when history's greatest golfer is playing somebody like Stewart Cink in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship finals. The 18th hole of the golf course - usually the hub of activity of a tournament - turns into more of a ghost town than anything even Al Swearengen would recognize.
Heck, Cardinal knew he was a Snoozing Man Standing even before Tiger Woods and Cink teed off for the second 18 in the 36-hole finale. With Cink down four holes after the first 18, he didn't look like he needed a cigarette and a blindfold as much as a barcalounger and a beer.
Cink wasn't mad or devastated. Just resigned and trudging.
At least Cink knew it was coming. Cardinal too. Imagine if you're Shelly McAllister sitting with your boys in a prime spot along the 13th green, a spot you spent most of the afternoon staking out under a merciless Arizona sun. You're on 13 - thirteen! - surely you're going to get a prime Tiger look.
Uh - Ms. McAllister, the trophy presentation will be set up on the 11th green.
"Can't they make him play one more," she pleads. "What am I going to tell my sons?"
McAllister pauses: "Run!"
With that, she and her kids take off on the same sprint hundreds of other fans do once it becomes apparent Tiger isn't going to get anywhere near them. 8 and 7. In a World Match Play Championship final. And this dominance is supposed to be good for golf?
It's funny when Tiger takes out some big mouth nobody like Stephen Ames 9 and 8 in a first round after essentially calling his shot. But you'd have a hard time finding anyone at the Gallery Golf Club Sunday who thought that Woods pummeling a deferential Cink made for compelling viewing.
The course emptied out a lot after the morning 18, as Tucsonians who don't exactly have a plethora of big-time sporting events to choose from found something better to do than watch the greatest golfer in history breeze past Arnold Palmer.
Tournament director Michael Garten admits he expects total attendance for the week to be down more than 7,000 from last year when Henrik Stenson won a no-name final with Tiger long gone. Garten chalks up the drop from 2007's 90,000 to this year's expected 82,500 to "the novelty factor" wearing off in the tournament's second year here.
In truth, it probably has more to do with the Match Play's ridiculous ticket prices in today's economy. Fifty bucks as the lowest priced daily ticket is way too high for this golf tournament, great field regardless (especially with tickets as low as $25 for the FBR Open in Scottsdale every year). Part of this is by design to make sure that the course doesn't draw bigger galleries than it can handle.
"To be honest, we couldn't take that much more than 90,000 here without having the experience really go down for everyone," Garton says.
Part of it is the experience also went down for everyone when Tiger started treating "Stewie" like his personal pin cushion.
This qualifies as hearsay in the PGA Tour's Woods' world of course. No one ever gets bored with Tiger. Can't you see those TV ratings! Columns in the local Tucson papers have touted the usual line about golf ratings being 111 percent higher when Tiger's in the field. Yada, yada, cha ching.
No one seems to remember that ratings actually went down at this year's Buick Open at Torrey Pines when Tiger won by eight shots. Now, Woods-Cink should still get better ratings than 36 holes of Stenson-Geoff Ogilvy in '07 but so might a "Saved By the Bell" marathon.
There was no buzz on this course Sunday afternoon, and even if the casual golf fan stuck in the snow had his set tuned to Woods-Cink, do you think he was really engaged by it?
Back on the 18 green, Cardinal tries to explain what he and his crew of four do on a day like this.
"We can help out marshals on the other holes," he says, adjusting his earpiece that delivers course updates. "If there's a crowd situation, we can send some more people there ..."
Any crowd situations this afternoon?
"Well, no," Cardinal says.
Five feet away, the right-hand woman in Cardinal's No. 18 crew sits in one of those foldable camping chairs, flipping through a magazine.
"I'd probably prefer to be somewhere with a little more action," Cardinal allows, looking down a long, empty fairway.
This is Cardinal's sixth year volunteering at Tucson PGA Tournaments, and it didn't always used to be this way. His favorite memory comes from the old Chrysler Classic days - a tourney that's only chance of ever drawing Tiger Woods would have been if Dubai bought the course.
"This might sound bad," Cardinal says. "But my biggest moment was probably when John Daly recorded a 10 on No. 4 at the old Tucson National and threw his putter in the water.
"I was a greenskeeper then, and me and my buddies went looking to try to fish that putter out for weeks. We never did find the thing, though."
Cardinal laughs. Sometimes golf could use a little more humor. It certainly didn't get any on Sunday - no humor, no drama, no need to stay awake.
Tiger had a much harder time dealing with all the tournament bigwig hangers-on waiting for photos with him on the 11th green than he did in seven hours on the course.
Later, someone asks Tiger if it's more offensive to him or the rest of the guys on tour when people bemoan nobody stepping up to challenge him?
"Well, I think it's probably more offensive to them, don't you think?" he shoots back.
Boredom's very good for Tiger Woods. It's not so good for golf.
February 25, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Davis Love III, who played the final 57 holes of the Children's Miracle Network Classic without a bogey, finished at 25-under 263 in the season-ending event played at the Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Florida. It has been a long road back for Love, who severely sprained his ankle late last year. After tearing ligaments, he needed surgery, and he's spent much of this year rehabilitating the injury.
... full article »