Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tracking The Tiger (and Freddie) - Part Deux!

Though the Sherwood Country Club here in Thousand Oaks has been in existance for 18 years now, today was the first time that I actually took in a golf tournament there. I was up brighter and earlier than usual for a Saturday morning - 6 a.m. - so that I would be to the course nice and early and get a chance to see the 16 players hit the practice tee. Brett Wetterlich's caddy was the first person to make his way there, followed by Rory Sabbatini at 9 a.m sharp. The players and their caddies gradually kept trickling in, and then a very loud cheer came up as fan favorite Fred Couples made his way over at 9:25... I've been a big fan on Freddie's for a very long time, so getting to see him close and hitting shot after shot almost effortlessly with his picture-perfect swing was a treat in itself.

About 15 minutes later, Tiger Woods and his playing partner for today, Jim Furyk, came to the tee and lucky for me, Tiger (like Freddie) was directly in front of where I was standing. I guess I picked a good spot. The best part of Tiger's practice time was when he was going through his routine and taking very slow deliberate swings with his driver, striking the ball hard enough to only move it perhaps 20 yards. During the routine, Furyk chimed in "none of us knows what the 'heck' he's doing either!" - obviously making reference to Tiger's dominance and how he makes it look so easy on the course. The crowd, Tiger, and everyone else just busted up laughing... it was definitely an ice-breaker! Speaking of that, an ice-breaker could have been used on the golf course as there was a light dusting of frost literally everywhere even as late as 10 a.m.

As Tiger neared the end of his practice routine, the crowd started to thin out. The first group of the day - Sabbatini and Colin Montgomerie - teed off at 9:50 a.m. Given that I'm a big fan of both Freddie and Tiger, I figured I would try to follow them both as much as possible. Surveying the course, it looked like the 5th green would be an ideal place to catch a lot of play and a glimpse of everyone, so I parked myself there about 10:40 or so and watched the groups trickle in. It turned out to be a GREAT place to watch from as the pin was very close to the back edge of the green... Also, I have to admit the company there was great as well! A very nice couple from Orange County made the 45 minute drive to be there for a second straight year. For the next hour or so, that couple, along with about five or six others and I talked about all kinds of golf-related things and as we watched the players stream in. Seeing a few of the pros hitting balls into the trees and hazards made us all feel a little bit better about our own games! :)

Wetterlich and Niclas Fasth were the first pair we all saw there, followed by Couples and Lee Westwood. Henrik Stenson and Mark Calcavecchia were next and provided the first big highlight of the day as "Calc" drove the par-5 hole in two shots and narrowly missed an eagle putt. Minutes later, Luke Donald and Steve Stricker's group provided another highlight as "Strick" nearly holed out his third shot from the fairway, the ball stopping just inches from the hole as he spun it back from about 10 feet past the pin. About a half hour later, Woods and Furyk both drove the green in two shots. Both would two-putt for birdies, getting Tiger to 15 under par, and Furyk to 12 under for the tournament.

With the final grouping finished with the 5th hole, our little group disbanded and went our separate ways. I was hoping to catch back up to the Couples/Westwood group at the 9th hole, but they were already gone, so I watched Donald and Sticker play the hole before heading to the 10th green where I followed that twosome and three more as we all awaited Tiger. Woods drove the ball only about 320 yards and had a simple wedge shot to the pin, which he stuck to about two feet for a gimme birdie.

One thing that I quickly learned about Sherwood was that it takes a lot of walking to get from one hole to the next. Following a golfer isn't nearly as easy as it was at the AT&T in our nation's capital on my birthday... In another effort to catch up with Couples, I headed to the nearby 16th hole. Freddie had found the trees off the tee and scrambled to hit a great 4th shot to within four feet of the pin. It just wasn't his day today though as he missed the par putt. I followed the Couples/Westwood twosome to the 17th and 18th holes... They arrived to a rousing ovation on 18 - most of the cheers were obviously for Freddie. He settled for a 4 over par round of 76. After a year plagued by back injuries where the Masters was his only full competitive tournament of the year, it was nice just to have the opportunity to see him play.

As the groups arrived at 18, I noticed a very familiar face being interviewed by the Golf Channel - longtime resident and actor Tom Selleck of Magnum P.I. fame! Many of the fans in attendance (not me) actually got his autograph. I did get 2007 Masters Champion Zach Johnson's autograph, and also got to talk so Furyk for a few seconds after the round was over. Johnson gave all of us a thrill on the closing hole as he hit the flag with his approach shot. Unfortunately, the ball finished about 10 feet to the right of the hole, and he wasn't able to make the putt. He finished the day at 11 under par and in solo third place. Furyk missed his birdie chance on 18, but made a par to finish at 12 under and remain in the runner-up chair. What did Tiger do? Well, he hit his approach about eight feet under the hole, curled his putt into the left edge of the cup for his 7th birdie of the day (to go along with two bogeys) for a 5 under-par 67. At 18 under par, Tiger is now six strokes clear of the field and looks set to win his tournament again this year...

By 3 p.m., it was all over, though many of us hung around and hoped to catch one last glimpse of our favorite players - Tiger did come out about 3:45 p.m. or so, but only signed a couple of autographs... He's quite busy now that he's a father... A fun time was had by all in attendance and I look forward to attending again next year!


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