HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — For just a moment, Matt Bova felt what it's like to be Tiger Woods.
After being introduced to a huge roar when he reached the ninth green — his 18th — at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links, Bova, a 26-year-old assistant pro at nearby Haig Point Golf Club, curled in a 16-foot putt for birdie. An even louder roar followed, just like Tiger.
"It was real exciting because they had just announced me, I'm a local guy and there's a bunch of Haig Point members here," the 5-foot-9, 145 pound Bova. "Just hearing the roar was real exciting."
After a slow start, Bova shot 34 on the back nine Thursday, with three birdies on his final five holes, to shoot 78. Bova, who played collegiate golf at Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., has been one of the fans doing the yelling outside the ropes at Harbour Town. He watched the final round of last year's Heritage, thinking how cool would it be to be inside the ropes at this year's tournament. Not as a player, but as a guest. Actually competing in the event wasn't even on his radar.
Bova qualified for the Heritage after winning the Carolinas PGA Section qualifier played at Berkeley Hall Club in Bluffton, S.C., with an early morning round of 73. Once he received entry into the tournament, met with tournament director Steve Wilmot and tried to feel out if he would receive a courtesy car during the tournament. Bova's face lit up upon hearing he would get "the whole she-bang" — including the car.
But the courtesy car couldn't even get Bova back to his home course. Haig Point Golf Club is situated on Daufuskie Island, and the only way to get on the island is by a ferry from Hilton Head Island. Judging by the yells of "Hook back" when Bova's 3-wood on No. 9 flirted with the right-hand rough or chants of "Let's go Matt" during his walks from tee to green, that ferry was full this morning.
"Everything has been great so far," Bova said. "It's a lot of fun to be out here with the big boys. The treatment they give you is above and beyond. It's something I'll remember for the rest of my life."
Part of the Haig Point contingent at the Heritage included Bova's caddie, Steve Barco, who runs the outside golf operations at the course. Compared to the other caddies, Barco had it easy during Thursday's opening round. Bova had a slender, navy blue TaylorMade stand bag opposed to the heavy cart bags other professionals use.
Barco, who plays with Bova every Monday, said any nerves Bova had left as soon as the first tee was stuck in the ground at his 9 a.m. tee time. That's when Danele Woods, Bova's fiancée and high-school sweetheart since 2003, began to worry. She had been calm all week, but on Thursday she took out her nerves on the tournament program, twisting it tighter with each passing hole. The booklet survived nine holes — five bogeys, two double-bogeys and two pars — before Woods tossed it in the trash.
"The first nine was kind of treacherous, and we were all on pins and needles," said Woods, a 25-year old assistant preschool teacher at Amazing Creations on Hilton Head Island. "Finally I threw that stupid booklet away. And he got in his groove and started playing better. It needed to go. I calmed down, and he calmed down."
Woods and Bova have an upcoming beachfront wedding on May 4 — "May the fourth be with you," Bova interjected with a grin. But despite the Star Wars joke, Bova showed maturity beyond his years when discussing his wedding plans.
"I told [Danele] the other day that I have the biggest week of my life coming up…until I get married," Bova said. "I was sure to throw that in."
Before the tournament, Woods told Bova that spectators would wonder who was the player with the rowdy following. She was right. After Bova drained the final putt of his opening round, a spectator walking past the green asked aloud, "Who is that kid? He looks pretty young, doesn't he?"
But wasn't it obvious? For that moment, it wasn't Matt Bova on the green. It was Tiger Woods.