NORTON — For fans attending the opening round of the Dell Technologies Championship, the effect of Tiger Woods’s presence was felt before they got off the highway. Traffic was backed up onto the exit ramp heading into Norton.
Spectators came from all over the area to see Woods in his return to New England.
In one particular case, luck played a role in creating the experience of a lifetime. Walking with each grouping of golfers is a standardbearer, who holds the scoreboard showing each golfer’s score. The standardbearer for Woods’s grouping was a 16-year-old high school student who had trekked from New Hampshire.
His grandparents told him in February that the tournament was looking for volunteers, so he signed up online. After training beforehand, he arrived early on Thursday along with all of the other standardbearers. To determine who accompanied each grouping of golfers, names were drawn from a hat. His name came up to carry the board for Woods. In other words, he won that day’s standardbearer lottery.
Thousands of other fans viewed in the traditional way, moving along the rope lines to catch a glimpse of Woods and other PGA stars.
Screened in the morning by a thin layer of clouds and fanned by a cool breeze, the ebullient spectators were treated to a reprieve from New England’s near-continuous heatwave. They responded with characteristic energy.
“This is a great sporting town,’’ said Woods. “They come out and support their sport. And it’s nice to play in front of them. They were into it.’’
Granted, not all fans were as committed to the golf as others. In between shots, as Woods strode confidently up the fairway, he was serenaded by chants, shouts of general encouragement, and even a question about which Oakland Raiders wide receiver would be a better fantasy football option (he declined to answer).
Of the many age demographics in attendance, none were more excited to see the 42-year-old than young fans. As Woods walked to the tee before the third hole, he even responded to a child who shouted, “Hi Tiger Woods!’’ with a greeting in turn, albeit slightly less enthusiastically.
“There were a lot of little kids out there,’’ Woods said. “It was fantastic.’’
Woods’s only surprise was their attendance on a Friday.
“I know they might be taking an early weekend,’’ he said, before adding that they “should be in school studying.’’
Playing in front of Woods’s grouping (which also included Marc Leishman and Chez Reavie) were Emiliano Grillo, Si Woo Kim, and Ryan Palmer. Behind them was a powerhouse contingent of Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, and defending Dell Technologies champion Justin Thomas.
In terms of crowds, the rising tide of Tiger raised all boats. While a human wave swamped every hole Woods played, the surrounding groups were also well attended, even if many of those in front were simply arriving early to get a better vantage point to see a Tiger.
Beginning his day at the 10th hole, Woods and his grouping made their way across the TPC Boston course, closing at the ninth hole (they will follow the traditional 1-18 order in the second round on Saturday). In the end, it was actually Leishman who fared best, shooting a 3-under-par 68. Woods, who finished with a 1-over 72, was asked if it was good to be back in New England for the first time since 2013.
“It was,’’ he said. “I haven’t been here in a while and I haven’t played.’’
For much of his first nine holes, Woods scuffled. But on the seventh hole (his 16th of the day), Woods sank a 4-foot birdie putt. The crowd, having waited patiently for its moment, erupted.
Acknowledging the changing PGA Tour schedule after 2018 (the FedExCup won’t return to TPC Boston until 2020), Woods was happy with what he saw.
“They came out and supported the event,’’ he said. “I know that this event is not going to happen very often going forward. One more year out of it. So it’s nice for them to come out.’’