By RUSTY MILLER
AKRON, Ohio – One year ago, Josh Stuber was back on the loading dock at Firestone Country Club putting some of the restaurant’s famous crunchy-cream pies into a cart.
Within an hour, he was, as he puts it, “the most wanted man in Ohio.”
Tiger Woods’ approach shot on the ninth hole, his last of the day in the second round of the Bridgestone Invitational, flew the green and took a moonshot-bounce off the blacktop, rolling around on the roof of the clubhouse before ricocheting past Stuber down on the dock. Unaware the ball belonged to the world’s No. 1 golfer, the cook plucked it off the pavement and stuffed it into his pocket.
“I thought someone was just goofing around with me,” said the 24-year-old, who left the club at the end of the golf season and now works at a Chinese restaurant in suburban Barberton.
“It was payday, so I hurried out and went to the bank quick.”
At the time, he told reporters he was setting up a corporate tent. He now concedes he said that so his bosses wouldn’t fire him for leaving work early to deposit his check.
Meanwhile, there was mayhem back on the course.
Tour officials began an all-out search to find the ball so they could make a ruling. CBS repeatedly showed overhead views of Woods’ shot flying over the green and past the bleachers behind it, then bounding up on the roof where it clattered around between vents and ducts before falling off.
A security camera on the clubhouse showed a man wearing a white chef’s hat picking up the ball and pocketing it. Stuber was identified by a stunned kitchen staff.
“I got a call saying, ‘You’ve got Tiger’s ball! You’ve got to get to the clubhouse, NOW!’” Stuber said.
By the time he returned, Woods had taken a free drop, made a bogey to complete a 6-under 64 and took a one-shot lead over Davis Love III. Two days later, Woods, won in a playoff.
Stuber was famous – for a weekend.
“I went into the chef’s office and they Googled my name,” he said. “It came up on, like, 25,000 pages.”
Woods later signed the ball for Stuber – “To Josh. Nice catch, Tiger Woods.”
Stuber mounted the ball near a framed page of the local paper with his picture on it, holding the ball.
“I had my 15 minutes, and it was over,” Stuber said. “I’m happy with how it went, but now it’s back to a normal life.”
Last October, the title sponsor of the World Golf Championship event paid Stuber’s way to a Las Vegas convention attended by 3,000 tire dealers and their guests.
A Bridgestone executive stood on the stage in a large hotel ballroom while film clips of Woods’ shot were shown on a gigantic screen.
“Then he said, ‘And we have the guy who found the ball,’” Bridgestone vice president Christine Karbowiak said. “Josh came out in his white chef’s costume with one of Firestone’s famous crunchy cream pies – and the ball.”
He received a standing ovation.
“It was at Halloween, so that was pretty fitting,” Stuber said.
He’s content to stay in the background this weekend, preparing shrimp fried rice and jotting down carryout orders, while Woods goes for his sixth title at the Bridgestone.
“It was a trip,” Stuber said. “A wild trip, for sure.”