ATLANTA — Tiger Woods called it a stampede. It felt more like The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.
Five years ago, as Woods marched downhill to the 18th green on the verge of his 80th PGA Tour title, 1,877 days since he hoisted his last trophy at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. The ropes opened behind him, and a sea of humanity fueled by alcohol blew past troopers and knocked over volunteer marshals to celebrate the long-awaited victory as if attending Tiger Woods-tock.
I was traipsing along in Tiger’s gallery that memorable day when it turned into bedlam, and I remember flashing my inside the ropes badge just before an officer built like a linebacker was about to flatten me Adam Hadwin-style, but somehow he pulled up just short and I survived.
I have so many fond memories of one the coolest tournaments I’ve ever had the pleasure of covering. I couldn’t help chuckling when after Woods rolled in his fourth birdie in five holes on Saturday, NBC’s Roger Maltbie sidled up to him and said, “You play a lot like that golfer Tiger Woods.”
Woods broke his concentration for a moment to share a smile with Maltbie before continuing his assault on par.
Woods grabbed the lead in the opening round with a 65, and golf fans were on red alert that something special was in the making. Former NBA All-Star Vince Carter walked the front nine inside the ropes with Tiger’s group on Saturday while former Atlanta Falcons running back Warrick Dunn, whose home backs up to the fifth tee at East Lake, climbed out of his La-Z-Boy and poked his head over a mesh fence to watch Woods blast a drive 320 yards, stuff a wedge to 7 feet and can the putt for birdie.
His Comeback Tour after undergoing a fourth back surgery that fused a vertebrae in April 2017 had been nothing short of miraculous and the faithful showed their enthusiasm for Tiger from the moment he arrived on the golf course with a 3-stroke lead over Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. It was just the first hole, but when Tiger’s 10-foot birdie putt rattled in, it was like a roundhouse right that floored McIlroy. He limped home in 74.
Woods led by five at the turn, but it got a little dicey near the end after Billy Horschel posted 9 under and Tiger’s lead was cut to two. On 18, there was still the formality of getting out of a greenside bunker, but for the Tiger faithful at East Lake, he had already done it: He’d made Sundays great again.
The whole scene was too good to be true, but it…