MELBOURNE, Australia – The size of the gallery Tuesday at Kingston Heath was nothing new for Tiger Woods, who also played before some 7,000 people two days ago in China.
That was the final round of a World Golf Championship.
This was merely a practice round for the Australia Masters, and it showed just what kind of buzz Woods has generated in his return to Australia for the first time in 11 years.
Perhaps even more peculiar than TV network helicopters circling overhead as Woods played nine holes with Craig Parry was the sign posted at the ticket office: “Sold Out.” Australia sporting events, particularly golf, thrive on walk-up sales, and no one could remember the last time a tournament had no tickets available.
Just another day in the life of the world’s No. 1 player? Not quite.
“No, it’s not normal,” Woods said at his press conference, which was broadcast live around Australia. “Thank God it’s not normal.”
Woods is looking for a different result than from this weekend in Shanghai, when he started the final round only two shots behind Phil Mickelson and quickly fell out of contention, finishing in a tie for sixth as Mickelson won the HSBC Champions.
Woods is making his fourth appearance in Australia, which he described as one of his favorite spots in the world for golf, particularly the sandbelt courses around Melbourne.
He tied for fifth in the 1996 Australian Open at the end of his rookie season, then tied for eighth in Australian Masters early in 1997. His last appearance was the Presidents Cup in 1998, when the International team gave the Americans their only loss. Woods played Australian icon Greg Norman, beating him in singles at Royal Melbourne.
This was his first time playing Kingston Heath, which already is firm and fast under hot sunshine.
“Unbelievable golf course,” Woods said. “I always have been a huge fan of the sandbelt courses. The bunkering is just phenomenal. You never get a chance to see bunkering like this is any other place in the world. You don’t need a golf course that is 7,500 yards for it to be hard. You can build it just like this and have it nice and tricky, and it’s just a treat to play.”
Woods is being paid a $3 million appearance fee, an investment by the Victorian government that supporters say already has been returned by the massive crowds.
Rod Pampling is the defending champion, a fact that has been lost in the buildup to the tournament. Pampling, who used to frequently play practice rounds with Woods at the majors, doesn’t mind.
“I think it’s a stroke for us,” Pampling said. “It’s great for Australian golf. It’s what Australian golf needed, was to have this impact. Seeing the crowds are sold out, we haven’t had that since the days of Norman. Hopefully, this will spur on other tournaments to realize that yes, you have to spend the money to get the money back.”
The course was subdued late in the afternoon. A half-hour after Woods finished his nine holes, one fan walked out to his car and said, “Nothing more to see for the day.”