SAN FRANCISCO -- All was quiet on the back-nine at The Olympic Club on Wednesday morning, with a heavy fog enveloping the course as spectators began to file in. It was, in essence, the calm before the storm -- only two groups were on the course, one of which happened to be on the back-nine. The quiet, however, was interrupted by a constant question: "Where's Tiger?"
It was a game of chase: Spectators swarming the back-nine, knowing Woods began his practice round, but unsure of which direction to head. "He's on 12," one marshal would say. "If you head over to 13 you can catch him."
"Maybe get to the par-3," another marshal would say. "You can probably beat the crowd and catch him there." The game of chase continued until it became incredibly obvious where he was.
There are few who command the attention Woods does -- his name alone is a draw, and the chance to see him in action, even in a practice round, crates a magnet affect. People flocked to the grouping of Woods, amateur Patrick Cantlay and Oregon head coach Casey Martin, lining the fairways five-plus deep and filling the grandstands.
The rest of the course remained quiet as a sea of people wandered along the ropes like a herd of cattle, all for the chance to watch Tiger go through the motions.
Typically, practice rounds are quiet affairs, with spectators milling about, catching a hole here or there. But not this one; not with Tiger involved. There were screams of "Tiger," a few "Happy Father's Day" yells and an incredible amount of cameras capturing his every move.
Nevermind the practice round isn't all that thrilling: Players spend most of their time working on finding the lines they're going to use off the tee and into the green, then examining the putting surface in excruciating detail. On each hole, Tiger and co. would hit their tee shots and approaches, sometimes playing a second ball from a different angle, before spending a solid 10 to 15 minutes on the green. They'd putt to various hole locations while also chipping and pitching from various spots to get a feel for the course.
There was, in fact, roars from the gallery, despite it only being a practice ground. By the time Tiger's group got to 18, the grandstands were full, and the hill alongside the green was stacked 30 deep. Casey Martin hit his approach to the back edge and the crowd stayed silent. Patrick Cantlay stuck a nice approach in and, again, silence.
Always a showman, Woods planted his second shot six-feet from the hole and the crowd responded. Yes, there was a "get in the hole" guy -- even in practice rounds they show up -- and yes, the crowd roared when Tiger's second shot landed on the green.
To finish it off, Woods stepped up and drained the putt for a birdie -- again leading to boisterous applause -- before getting back to the task at hand and putting to various spots on the green.
Walking back towards the clubhouse, out of view of the course, the same questions came pouring in: "Where's Tiger? Where can I catch him." No matter how he's playing, Woods will continue to be a huge draw -- even at the crack of dawn on a Wednesday.
-- One of the most interesting things to watch continues to be the players' reactions to the 17th green. The right side of the green is going to be absolutely devastating, and players will be avoiding it at all costs. Martin's approach into the par-5 rolled off the right edge and all the way down to the chipping area, like many before him. He proceeded to chip up to the green, only to see his ball -- which stopped a good five paces on -- roll all the way off the green and back to his feet.
-- Tiger went through the same exercise Jason Day did on Tuesday, dropping a ball on the right side of the green to see where it rolled. He simply dropped a ball some 12 feet onto the green. It rolled all the way down the hill, past the trees, and into the rough between the 17th green and 18th fairway. It's a prime example of what the players are working with.
-- As mentioned earlier, Chip Kelly was along for the ride with Woods, Cantlay and Martin.
-- The rough is absolutely punishing, as always. Woods hit his drive on No. 16 -- the 670 yard par-5 -- into the right rough, just inside the gallery ropes. His second shot, out of about three-inch grass, still clumped and wet from the morning mist, traveled about 150 yards, no higher than 10-feet in the air the whole way after a mammoth hack. The shot left him a fairway metal into the green for his third shot -- essentially serving as a penalty stroke. Any misses are going to be severely penalized, as is customary at the U.S. Open.