COUNTY LIMERICK, IRELAND | Just who is the mysterious man in black? Just how does he entice 12 of the world’s top 16 to jet into Country Limerick in the west of Ireland for a 36-hole pro-am the week before the British Open? And with no appearance fees.
Either J.P. McManus, reputedly richer than the Bank of Ireland, really is as lovely a man as everyone would have us believe, or he has ferreted away an extraordinarily saucy collection of negatives. For it seems that he calls, and they come. Tiger Woods included. J.P. even laid on a 52-seater Airbus to pick up those who had been playing at the AT&T National in Pennsylvania.
Twenty thousand spectators were expected at Adare Manor. Forty thousand pitched up, turning country lanes into Europe’s largest car park. Gridlock for the Garda police. They weren’t the only ones to get mobbed.
Woods flew in for his first appearance outside the States since you-know-what became everybody’s business. Some whooped. Some hollered. Some pointed and giggled. The you-the-man and get-in-the-hole yahoos made their eejit voices heard. Woods was even wolf-whistled. By a man. They came to watch him play golf. But they mostly came to gawp at the notorious celebrity.
Yep, Hugh Grant and Michael Douglas were here, too. Woods, though, was the star attraction. He has become a touring freak show. He was paired with legendary jockeys Tony McCoy and Mick Fitzgerald. There’s a Carry On Riding gag in there somewhere. Woods was shadowed by a bodyguard, three armed police officers and by more marshals than the posse that chased Butch and Sundance. Plus wives and girlfriends and VIPs and reporters and TV camera crews and local radio DJs.
It felt like a cross between an episode of Father Ted and Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. Heck, on the 17th tee on Day Two, even the police posed for a photograph with Woods. Imagine the newspaper headlines if that had been the moment Crazy Guy had chosen to dash from behind the ropes to attack Woods. After all, on Day One, the ever-so-scary cordon of steel surrounding the World No.1 had been breached by a 6-year-old girl brandishing a blunt writing instrument and a note pad.
“I told her to run like hell, smile, and say please and thank you,” said her cowardly father. “And don’t get shot,” he forgot to add. Ah, yes, newspaper headlines. “Armed Guard For A Cheat,” yelled one nasty tabloid on the morning of Day Two. “Six-year-old snares Tiger,” purred a pro-Tiger tabloid next to a perfect PR photograph of little Ava and her (cowardly father’s) “hero.”
That’s just the way life is for Woods. Still, Tiger doesn’t have to be so rude. Before jetting back to Florida to see his kids after a 26-hour visit to Limerick, he was asked in a press conference whether his private life is affecting his golf. Woods employed his “death stare,” staccato answer and silence approach. Politeness would disarm questions he deems too private but his arrogance and anger can’t stop looking for confrontation. He should read more Mark Twain: “Never pick a fight with a man who buys his ink by the barrel.” Or Marty Feldman: “The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with.”
Out in the middle of a fairway seems to be the only place Woods is happy. It was ever thus. He chatted and joked with his playing partners and their entourage and signed autographs for them. But he has lost the ability to interact with real people save for an occasional wave or whispered “thank you.” All that seemed about to change after firing his final drive down 18. Dozens of kids were screaming his name from behind the tee. He turned and headed toward them to cries of glee. And then walked straight though them to take a bathroom break in a portaloo. The bodyguard stayed outside bravely keeping the kids at bay. There was a cheer as Woods emerged. He could have stopped. Or at least said something. But nothing. Head down. Back to the fairway. There were boos. Shame.
Adare Manor is a fabulous greystone-turreted Walt Disney castle built in 1862 in an 840-acre estate. It’s the perfect backdrop for this once-every-five-years fairytale pro-am that had raised $71 million for charity even before this fifth staging of the event. The atmosphere is a social scene for locals, marshaled by legions of volunteers far too busy watching golf to spot, let alone stop, hundreds of fans wandering across fairways and following Woods inside the ropes. It’s a village fete with a tournament that sponsors couldn’t afford.
Apparently Darren Clarke won. Though it’s not certain what exactly. It might have been the raffle or more probably he got to eat the prize for Guess the Weight of the Cake. Oh well, onward to Scotland for the Claret Jug Thingy.