NORTON, Mass. — “I don’t watch golf, but I watch Tiger.”
That kind of statement, overheard in the gallery Friday during the first round of the Dell Technologies Championship, exemplifies the sort of impact Tiger Woods continues to have on the sport of golf.
The 14-time major winner is in the midst of a fairly incredible comeback at the age of 40 and after myriad operations, most notably spinal fusion surgery.
If Friday at TPC Boston was any indication, New England golf fans weren’t about to take the chance to see arguably the greatest golfer of all time for granted.
Crowds lined the 10th hole early Friday morning, a solid 20 minutes before Woods’ 8:51 a.m. ET tee time heading out on the back nine.
As Woods made his way from the practice range to the 10th tee, you didn’t need a seat in the bleachers to know Woods was about to make his appearance. The dull roar started as soon as Woods — dressed in a black hat, black shirt, black pants and black shoes — emerged from the walkway below the 10th tee box.
After watching Marc Leishman and Chez Reavie tee off before him, Woods stepped up to the tee. He stepped off his ball, changed clubs and then hooked a shot down the left rough, ultimately having to take a drop.
For most, Woods’ ominous start mattered not.
“It’s just like Disney World; this is the best!” one woman in a group of three could be overheard exclaiming while walking down the cart path on No. 10.
There were plenty of similar sentiments from hosts of people, some wearing shirts covered in goats (or GOATs) or imploring Woods to make Sunday great again — all of them in Woods’ trademark red.
The crowds only grew as the day went on and the sun got warmer. Woods’ gallery rivaled that of any final round grouping. As soon as Woods hit a shot — in some cases, before the shot even landed — fans went scurrying down the fairway or toward the green or even toward the next tee box with hopes of positioning themselves right on the ropes for an up-close look at the golf legend.
“It was (good to be back in New England),” Woods said after his round, his first at TPC Boston since 2013. “I haven’t been here in a while and I haven’t played. They came out and supported the event. … This is a great sporting town. They come out and support their sport.”
The crowds not only were enormous, they were diverse, which is one of the hallmarks of Woods’ incredible career. He makes golf a popular sport, and he’s opened the eyes of folks from all walks of life — young or old, male or female, white or black, and everything in between. Like the elderly couple camped behind the 12th green and the nearby boy perched atop his father’s shoulders to get a better look at Woods.
“There were a lot of little kids out there. It was fantastic,” Woods said. “I know they might be taking an early weekend, should be in school studying.”
An inconsistent first round — oh, yeah: Woods shot a 1-over, 72 — in some ways quieted the roars that have followed Woods throughout his career. But his birdie at the par-5 seventh gave fans standing 10 or 15-deep behind the green reason to cheer loudly. The crowd got even louder at No. 8 when Woods rolled in a par-saving putt from about 30 feet.
Of course, it didn’t really matter what Woods did Friday or what he does the rest of the weekend at TPC Boston. The chance to say you got to watch one of the biggest sports figures of all time will be more than enough for most.