Shanghai fans came to see Tiger, but learned to love the game

Shanghai fans came to see Tiger, but learned to love the game

Despite finishing 12 shots off the lead, Tiger Woods drew the biggest crowds on Sunday in Shanghai.
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

It was getting dark when Francesco Molinari held up the “new” Old Tom Morris Trophy as the winner of the 2010 HSBC Champions in Shanghai. With his par-saving putt on the 18th hole, he avoided a playoff against Lee Westwood and was able to catch his flight to the Singapore Open and celebrate his first WGC victory and 28th birthday.

Two hours before, Tiger Woods finished his final round T6, the same position as 2009, but he was never in contention this year and finished 12 shots behind Molinari.

But despite having zero chance to win, Tiger Woods was still the fan favorite on Sunday. With a 90-minute morning fog delay, Tiger didn’t start his final round until 11:05 a.m., which gave more fans the chance to watch his drive on the first tee.

When the sun finally broke, the thousands of fans at Sheshan International Golf Club broke into two groups. The first group followed Tiger while the second group followed the leaders, Molinari, Westwood and Luke Donald.

One group of excited Tiger fans wore tiger hats and orange-and-black striped jerseys. The letters on their shirts read “TIGER ROCKS!” When Tiger saw them at the second tee, he smiled and gave them a thumbs-up.

“We are buddies on the golf course and often play together,” said David, one member of the five-man Tiger fan club. “He desperately needs support from us Tiger fans now. So we had the idea to let Tiger know his Chinese fans will always love him.”

The good cheer followed Tiger through his entire round. As he played the 16th hole, the green was packed with spectators. After Tiger made a four-foot birdie putt, a man shouted a Chinese vulgarity to encourage Tiger, who laughed along with the crowd. Having been to China many times, Tiger probably knew what it really meant.

In its six-year history, the HSBC Champions has contributed many spirited, passionate and memorable moments, like Ross Fisher chipping into water on the final hole in 2007, Sergio Garcia’s Monday playoff victory in 2008 and Phil Mickelson’s final-round battle with Tiger in 2009. This year’s tournament added another stirring chapter to the young tournament’s history, as Westwood and Molinari made seven birdies between them on the first nine holes, a mini-Duel in the China Sun.

According to official statistics, the total attendance was 7,830 for Saturday’s third round, and possibly more than 10,000 on Sunday. However, many more were probably not counted as tickets were passed between fans and used multiple times.

Still, 10,000 is close to capacity for the Sheshan International Golf Club, which is not an ideal venue for such a big event. The cart paths are narrow and fan-viewing areas are limited. Only three fairways allow fans to stand on either side and many greens are built right against the water. The 18th green is surrounded by water on two sides and the grandstand behind the green seats only 200. It is the only grandstand on the course.

When Tiger’s group played 18, there was hardly any space for the thousands of fans to watch. “I couldn’t see clearly where the ball landed” was a common complaint.

These problems have led to murmurs that the HSBC Champions will leave Shanghai for Mission Hills Haikou. While nothing official has been mentioned so far, some staff members expressed their worries.

“Shanghai is the biggest golf market in China and the home of HSBC,” said a member of one of the tournament sponsors. “It’s the best city for such big golf events, no doubt.”

Everyone agrees that the HSBC Champions has matured greatly over the last six years.

“I saw it develop from an exhibition and commercial-like event to a leading golf tournament with worldwide impact,” said one Chinese reporter who covered five HSBC Champions in the last six years. “Maybe most of the fans came here initially for Tiger, but now attending golf tournaments became a habit and they learned how to watch a golf event.”

In the setting sun, a father held his daughter’s hand and walked along the second fairway after the final group had played the hole. Families like this one have started to appreciate the quiet charms of a golf tournament, away from the noisy crowds. It will be a loss to them and the development of golf in China if this event leaves Shanghai.

Wait Until Dark: With the 90-minute fog delay, the leaders didn’t tee off until 12:05 p.m., which meant the event was at the risk of a Monday finish because it gets dark around 5 p.m. But Molinari saved par on 18 and Westwood missed a 25-feet eagle putt on 18th green, so the tournament finished on time. The only time that the HSBC Champions finished on Monday was in 2008, when heavy rain forced organizers to cancel play on Friday.

Still the One: Lee Westwood stayed at the No.1 position for the second consecutive week, extending his lead over Tiger Woods to 0.629 points (8.841 to 8.212). Martin Kaymer retained the No. 3 ranking with 7.957 points, and Phil Mickelson stayed in fourth place.

Chinese Players Go Low: The players from China finally scored under-par rounds in the final round. Liang Wenchong, the leading Chinese player, shot a 69 and climbed to T63. Li Chao also carded a 71 to avoid finishing dead last. Three of the four Chinese players in the field finished worse than 70th.

Hole Lotta Trouble: Sheshan’s ninth hole played the toughest this week at the HSBC. Only 11 birdies were carded at the 489-yard par 4, which has water behind and to the right of the green. There were 102 bogeys, 11 double bogeys and 2 “others.” The average score for the hole was 4.385.

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