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1997 NISSAN OPEN / RIVIERA COUNTRY CLUB

For the Savvy Tiger-Watcher, There's No Sub for a Periscope

Golf: Woods shoots another 70 while thinking about his dad, as fans face challenge of getting a good look.

March 01, 1997|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tiger Nation grew a day older and a good deal wiser Friday, the artiste and his gallery working to coexist for the betterment of an afternoon's walk around Riviera Country Club, if not quite all of mankind.

No vulgarian wearing a photographer's armband tried anything so brazen as to click off a few frames before Tiger Woods had satisfactorily lined up a putt.

In return, Tiger agreed to a fairway interview session after completing his second consecutive round of 70 at the Nissan Open, revealing that his thoughts have been elsewhere this week--with his father, Earl, still hospitalized after undergoing triple-bypass heart surgery Sunday night at UCLA Medical Center.

"I haven't practiced [this week]," Woods said. "I've been at the hospital. Family comes first, always."

Tiger said Earl "is doing fine" but admitted the only reason he's playing the Nissan Open is "because it's here. If it had been on the East Coast, no way. And that's why I'm not playing next week [at the Doral Open]."

In the meantime, Tiger's public continued with its trial-and-error training. The thundering herd trampled the elephant grass, flooded the pedestrian pathways and, around certain holes, the gallery was stacked eight deep, often turning a day of Tiger watching into a real-life game of "Where's Waldo?"

"I can't see," someone complained near the back of the pack of the mob on the 18th tee.

Not many could. Those on the fringes of the gallery could only tiptoe and listen.

Thwack!

That had to be Tom Watson or Fred Funk, the other members of Woods' group.

Thwack!

Maybe Funk, maybe Watson.

THWAAACK!!!

"That must've been Tiger," a voice from beyond the rim called out.

As a small white speck soared high overhead and disappeared over the hill leading to the green, the crowd responded happily.

"That's just raw power!" one Tiger fan exulted.

Adding visuals to the audio was a challenge all afternoon. Those without the disposable income or the connections to sit in the $1,500 inside-the-ropes GolfWatch lane were forced to improvise.

Some brought small stepladders, stools or large plastic buckets on which to climb above the masses.

Others stood on folding chairs.

One man tried turning over a large metal drum before a security guard stopped him.

And, for a moderate investment, a retractable mini-periscope called a SportScope could be had at the pro shop--$45 for five-power, $85 for 10-power. As Woods' gallery grew throughout the day, the sea of humanity surrounding him appeared to be patrolled by tiny black submarines.

"As short as I am, I've got to do something to see," said Ron Kearns of Temple City, 52 and 5 feet 7, brandishing the $45 model. "There's no other way to do it."

Up periscope. Through the telescope-style lens at the bottom of the device, Kearns could follow Woods' every move.

"Most of the people here are paying big money and can't see anything," Kearns said. "I bought this and it's made it a very worthwhile day.

"I kind of look at it like this: You can spend $1,500 to be in that special walking area. Or, for $45, you can have the same thing."

"Or you can buy a $6 cheapie like this," chimed in Kearns' friend, Ray Blakeslee of Duarte, as he proudly held up a 10-year-old forerunner of SportScope, fashioned of cardboard and two mirrors. "I bought it at the L.A. Open 10 years ago. It works really well."

Better still, if you want to follow Woods around Riviera this weekend, try to be 6 feet 6 inches tall, like Marion Kent of Cincinnati.

"I'm blessed," said Kent, 56, as he towered over even the tops of the periscopes. "I can just stand here and see over the crowd."

Kent is a self-described "Tigeroholic" who retired last year--"The same week Tiger turned pro"--and has devoted the early months of his golden years to following Woods around the PGA circuit.

"And I plan on following him to the Doral [Woods hadn't announced yet that he wasn't playing], Bay Hill, the Players Championship and the Memorial," Kent said. "I'm skipping the Masters, though. I can watch that one on TV."

That's the least obstructed view of all, and the easiest on the wallet, but Kent professes there's no substitute for being there, even if only within earshot.

It's quite a sight, provided you have the technology, the ingenuity or the genetics.

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