Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Catch him if you can
By Bob Smiley
Special to ESPN.com
TAILING TIGER, Fla. -- You might be a big golf fan, but I guarantee I've followed Tiger Woods more closely than you have this season. See, I've been doing it in person. On foot. And until Monday, I hadn't missed a single hole he had played -- 405 of them, to be exact. San Diego, Dubai, west to Tucson, east to Orlando and then Miami. Even more amazing is the fact that my wife hasn't divorced me yet.
That said, my grand plans to chronicle the adventures of Tiger's every hole in 2008 hit a snag when it was announced that despite not finishing the final round of the CA Championship in Miami until around 10:20 a.m. Monday, Tiger would still tee off at the Tavistock Cup in Orlando at 1:42 p.m. With a private jet, the 3 hour, 22 minute window was no problem. But all I had was a rented Toyota RAV4 and a Google Maps printout that said the drive would take 3 hours, 49 minutes.
|After completing his final round at Doral ...|
3½ hours until tee time
10:12 a.m.: Tiger's birdie putt on Doral's 18th hole misses wide, and his streak is over. But my streak is still alive, and I run for the exit.
10:19 a.m.: Rather than risk general parking and have to wait for a bus, I have parked illegally at a bank down the street from Doral. The silver RAV4 (a massive upgrade from the Hyundai Accent I'd been promised) is just as I left it, parked facing out, the gas tank topped off and, on the passenger seat, directions that say I'm 243 miles from Isleworth Country Club.
10:25 a.m.: As I turn onto the Palmetto Expressway, I get a sinking feeling that maybe Tiger's 15-under-par could get him in a playoff and I'm a fool for leaving. And not without good reason -- I saw the leaders fold in Dubai and saw them do it again at Bay Hill. I call my friend Craig who is watching the coverage, and he gives me the play-by-play down the stretch. When Jim Furyk makes his 6-footer to post 16-under, I lay into the accelerator and head north.
3 hours until tee time
10:42 a.m.: So far, traffic is light. To pull this off, I've calculated I need to average 80 mph, which means I also need to avoid slow toll lines, road construction and, most costly, Florida state troopers. The one thing I've forgotten to factor in is my own stupidity, which comes into play when I miss the turnoff for the Turnpike. The mistake costs me a precious five minutes.
11:20 a.m.: I'm on the Turnpike, and I can't figure out why I'm paying Florida for a highway that is just two lanes. I have no choice but to become the kind of driver I can't stand as I weave between lanes, tailgate the fast drivers and flash my lights at the slow ones. At one point, the passenger in one of the cars I'm trying to pass leans out his window and says, "Take it easy! It's only Monday!" He's completely right, and I feel bad. Now get out of the way.
2 hours until tee time
11:42 a.m.: Tiger's for sure in the air by now, traveling 700 percent faster than I am with his seat fully reclined. As for me, I'm driving by the state's worst-smelling dump, located just south of PGA National. I fumble to shut down my air conditioning, but it's too late. The car reeks.
11:49 a.m.: The Turnpike passes through Jupiter, where Tiger is building his new estate. I'm guessing the realtor didn't highlight the fact that he's just seven minutes away from that landfill.
11:52 a.m.: Less than two hours now, and I pass a sign that says I still have 164 miles to Orlando's city limits. If I were good at math, I'd probably be depressed.
12:12 p.m.: Tiger will be on the range in about 30 minutes, and I'm just halfway there, 122 miles from the course. For the first time since I was 16, my speedometer climbs to 90.
12:39 p.m.: I start to pass a guy in a black Mercedes convertible, then do a double-take. As he drives along with the top down, he's steering with one hand and playing a miniature trumpet with the other. I'm not sure which one of us is more reckless.
|... Woods high-tailed it to Isleworth, with our man in full pursuit.|
1 hour until tee time
12:42 p.m.: A sign just said I'm still 79 miles from Orlando. I don't even know if I'll cut it close at this point.
1 p.m.: I spot a trooper lurking behind an overpass. I shift from drive down to third so the cop doesn't see any brake lights, and the RAV4 responds, dropping to a respectful 71 mph.
1:18 p.m.: Road construction. The Turnpike is down to one lane. As traffic slows, I start mentally drafting my angry letter to the Florida Department of Transportation, which will be happily charging me $13.70 when I exit.
1:23 p.m.: Just 19 minutes left for me to go 29 miles. There's no way I make it.
6 minutes until tee time
1:36 p.m.: I'm off the highway and onto side streets. I'm not sure how it happened, but I've made up a lot of time. I check the dashboard for Doc Brown's Flux Capacitor. This might actually be close.
Zero minutes until tee time
1:42 p.m.: "On the first tee, from Windemere, Florida, Tiger Woods!" At least, that's what I imagine someone is saying right now. I'm not from Windemere, but I am in Windemere, a sleepy town where I'm learning people obey the 25 mph speed limit. After going 90, it feels like slow motion.
1:51 p.m.: As I look for a spot, I know it's too late. Tiger's streak is over, and so is mine. I did almost everything right and still couldn't do it. I'm bitter for a minute, then remember the lesson Tiger taught me at the CA Championship, which is to keep fighting, all the way to the end. So once inside Isleworth, I again start to run.
2:04 p.m.: OK, seriously, how far is it to No. 2? After about a mile, I'm fried. My legs are heavy from the long drive, my feet are still wet from walking Doral and all I've eaten today is an old granola bar I got for free at Bay Hill. So when I hear a golf cart coming up behind me, I do something that probably doesn't happen much around Isleworth -- I stick out my thumb and hitchhike. The middle-aged man behind the cart slows down, I hop on the back and my new friend John takes me the last half-mile.
2:10 p.m.: On the tee at No. 3, I once again find Tiger. It's been 3 hours, 58 minutes since I left him at Doral. I laugh to myself as I consider just how different our trips must have been. And as I catch my breath and take in what might be the most beautiful course I've ever seen, a new streak begins.
Bob Smiley is a TV writer and a contributor to ESPN.com's golf coverage. He also writes the golf blog Fore Right and currently is writing a book about following Tiger Woods for all of 2008. He can be reached at Bobsmiley77@gmail.com.