Fans want to see Tiger Woods try to tame Aronimink, and that's what they get

THE WELL-proportioned woman passed in front of us just as Tiger Woods went into his swing.

"Whoa," a man to my side said to the not-nearly-as-well-proportioned woman at his side. "Now there's a lady for Tiger.

"That's what he needs to be looking at."

Mark it down. At 11:04 a.m. yesterday, something was said out loud in the vicinity of Tiger Woods that was not pure encouragement, not pure empathy, not pure adulation. A little joke, a reference to a past conveniently overlooked this week during the rare appearance of golf's fallen deity, even as details of his impending divorce settlement broke on Wednesday.

The attendance at Aronimink Golf Club on a spectacular afternoon was estimated at 35,000 or more, and at any time it seemed as if half of them surrounded whatever hole Tiger was playing, regardless of what the leaderboard said.

Finishing at par 70 for the day and 3-over for the tournament through two rounds, Woods poked his ball all over the green for much of the day, as he had the day before, but he was treated empathetically just the same. Two birdies on 3 and 4, the second evoking that famous fist pump, created a short-lived buzz, but then he three-putted the fifth hole, and the rest of the round resembled a scene from "Life of Brian," the masses looking for miracles from the wrong guy.

His game, he said afterward, "is not quite where it needs to be."

"I hit awesome, putt awful," he mused. "Putt great, hit awful.

"It's always something, isn't it?"

Not with him, it isn't. At least it wasn't before his "transgressions" led to a self-imposed hiatus from the game. It's not the recipe of golf's best-ever, or the recipe of its best draw. For Aronimink and AT&T, it was, in fact, a recipe for disaster, threatening to leave the final 2 days of this tournament Tiger-less.

At Congressional, in Bethesda, Md., last year, with Woods tied for the lead heading into the final day, nearly 4,000 additional fans came spur of the moment. He won by a stroke, an electric day.

And if he missed yesterday's cut?

You don't need to be Einstein to figure it out.

Justin Rose is atop the leaderboard, followed closely by Jason Day, Charlie Wi, Charley Hoffman and Jeff Overton. All are swell fellas. Among the eight right behind them are Kris Blanks, Nick Watney and Robert Allenby, just to name a few, all swell as well.

What do you mean you're not coming?

Did I mention Tiger will be playing?

I ran into neighbors of mine, who had brought their kids and their friends, eight in all, to run up and down outside the ropes of the 7,237, par-70 course, hoping for a glimpse or even, naively, an autograph.

"They want to see Tiger," offered the wife without being asked. "They don't know about all the stuff."

A second later, though, she marveled at those who did.

"It's amazing all the people cheering for him after all that's happened," she said.

Not really. Golf is a vicarious sport, one played against the elements, not against people. Yes, you must shoot better than the other golfers to win the first-place purse, but the enemy is always yourself more than another golfer. Those who pay to watch want great shots and great putts, regardless of who's swinging the club. And they share players' frustration when the shots look too much like their own.

Davis Love III shot 8-over par Thursday, 2-over yesterday.

"Wow, even I could have done better than that," a woman cackled after a particularly hideous shot by him. It's bad enough to play mediocre golf in front of huge galleries. But it was downright painful to watch Love scuffle so badly as part of Woods' threesome.

Love is another swell guy, accomplished, too. But again, it's about shots made and missed when you're following these guys around.

"That layoff [Woods] had from golf was really a waste of time," one fan said to his friend. " 'Cause no one out here gives a crap."

Big picture, he's wrong, of course. Woods had a life off the links to get right, to figure out, to try to fix. He's said repeatedly he's trying to become a better human being, and, for the time being at least, his status as golf god seems to be suffering. It's compelling theater, what he's going through, just not compelling golf.

One of these days, though - maybe today - it might be both. *

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