Following the Tiger & Phil Circus

Following the Tiger & Phil Circus

Spectators swelled around the Woods-Mickelson-Scott grouping.
John Biever/SI

SAN DIEGO — Patrick Bernard of Clairemont, Calif., says he was the first fan through the gates this morning at Torrey Pines Golf Course. “Row one, seat one, bro,” he said of the spot he had in the grandstand by the first tee. To secure his prime real estate Bernard says he snuck onto a media shuttle and slipped past security at 5:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the course opened to the public.

Such are the lengths that fans went to in hopes of catching a glimpse of the powerhouse grouping in the first round of the U.S. Open: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott, golf’s equivalent of John, Paul and Ringo jamming.

A huge swell of spectators had already gathered by the time Mickelson walked onto the first tee just after 8AM, acknowledging the raucous gallery with his signature nod before approaching the starter’s podium like a politician preparing to address an adoring throng.

Speeeeeeeeeeeech!” cried the gallery, which was 20-deep in places.

When Scott and Woods arrived, the three exchanged an awkward three-way handshake, with Tiger chuckling as he carefully avoided squeezing Scott’s banged-up pinky.

“You ready, Phil?” a fan bellowed.

The question could just as easily have been reversed: “You ready, fans?”

Most did seem prepared for the obstacle course of watching this group in action, with some jumping onto the top of flat-bed E-Z-GO carts for a better look, others toting periscopes and one intrepid teenager taking it all in from halfway up a Torrey pine.

“You do what you have to do,” said Anthony Cellini of Las Vegas, perched near the fifth green on a red plastic crate.

The first hole proved manageable for the assembled fans, but as the throng thickened it was easy to forget that there were actually other groups on the course.

“You gotta get in position in advance, at least three or four holes,” said Bernard. “At the Buick [Invitational] one hole ahead is enough.” Bernard says that a well-placed fan might grab an unimpeded view of Tiger and Phil hitting five or six shots all day.

Another well-connected fan, standing not much taller than 5 feet, had her own issues: she was trying to sneak a peak of her husband. “I usually stay ahead of the crowd,” said Amy Mickelson, “but I couldn’t see anything without this.” She pointed to her black periscope called a Sportscope, which is manufactured by a company run by Phil’s dad. It looks fancy but works just like the old cardboard periscopes they used to sell at Tour events.

Amy could probably procure inside-the-ropes access, she says, but “I wouldn’t want to be in there. Phil’s doing his thing, I’m doing mine.”

And the media was doing its thing, which is always an added obstacle for fans when Tiger or Phil are on the course, let alone when both are in the same group. “You expect a lot of people, but you don’t expect this,” said Brandon Schwab, an engineer from San Diego, who waited patiently for six holes to see the Tiger and Phil Show only to be blocked out by a troupe of 50 reporters, cameramen and marshals.

“I mean, c’mon, right in front of me!”

Just imagine the circus if they are paired together on Sunday.