I've been playing golf since I was barely old enough to swing a club. I was born two months before Tiger Woods won his first major at the 1997 Masters.
Ever since I can remember, I've been a Tiger Woods stan.
But the only real memory I have of Tiger being Tiger was when he won the 2008 U.S. Open in a playoff against Rocco Mediate. I was 11. He'd won 13 majors before that, but I was too young to truly remember much of any of them. But the 91-hole Monday playoff I left elementary school early to go watch will stick with me forever.
That Tiger has hardly been seen since. His injury history and unceremonious fall from grace are well-documented. He may never actually be that Tiger again. Even if he's not, he'll always carry the same expectations, because that's what he expects of himself.
Thursday at the Quicken Loans National, a tournament he hosts, I got to watch him in person for the first time. Even though he shot an even-par 70, it was awesome.
The most famous golfer of all time doesn't need to be playing well to draw massive crowds.
I’d like to present this as proof that Tiger doesn’t even need to be playing well to have crowds that are 10 rows deep pic.twitter.com/9wavkdApif— Jared Goldstein (@_jgoldy17) June 28, 2018
Tiger was stuck in neutral for most of the first round. He had one bad hole that resulted in a double bogey and put a few approach shots close on the back nine to make a pair of birdies to get back to even. It never once seemed to matter to fans, who were several rows deep on all 18 holes all afternoon.
Rickie Fowler, who's undoubtedly the second most popular golfer in the field, also had a large following, which was noticeably younger than those following Tiger. But even Fowler, who's having a better season and has actually won in the last two years, couldn't match the crowds Tiger drew.
It seemed as though all the fans on the course were following one of those two groups, which were just one tee time apart, meaning they were on the same hole much of the afternoon. The group behind Tiger's featured Troy Merritt, Harris English and J.J. Spaun, who just so happens to be tied for the lead after a 7-under 63. There were no more than two dozen people following him at any point Thursday afternoon.
No, not even a young gun who was tying the course record could draw fans away from Tiger's average round.
Perhaps they thought he would get it going at some point like the old Tiger always seemed to. Perhaps they were waiting to see if they could catch a glimpse of anything that reminded them of the Tiger that once dominated the PGA Tour.
I know I was.