Woods: This is a sad, sad day in America

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- Tiger Woods teed off at dawn, when the world was at peace.

First reports of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and then the Pentagon were relayed to him by Joe Corless, a retired FBI agent who heads security for the PGA Tour and walked the practice round with him at Bellerive Country Club.

Only later did Woods understand the magnitude.

''This is a sad, sad day in America,'' he said quietly.

Corless came by with two more reports after Woods finished his round -- a plane down near Pittsburgh, another one presumably hijacked, location unknown. Air traffic suspended across the country. Countless lives lost. An uncertain future.

With one foot on a bench in front of his locker, his head bowed, Woods looked down at his right arm and found it covered with hundreds of tiny dimples.

''Look at this, I've got goosebumps,'' he said, rubbing his left hand over them.

His caddie, Steve Williams, sat on a folding chair on the practice range waiting for Woods to show up and hit balls. An hour later, Woods appeared in dress shoes and motioned to the caddie that it was time to go home.

Not many others felt like hitting a golf ball, either.

''We're all in shock,'' said Adam Scott of Australia. ''Golf is the last priority.''

Woods is part of an elite field gathered for the American Express Championship, a World Golf Championship event for the top 50 players in the world ranking and top money leaders from six tours around the globe.

Only 46 of the 67 players made it to St. Louis. The others were stranded across the country.

Phil Mickelson was on his way to Houston to talk about his victory in the 2000 Tour Championship; he made it as far as Austin, Texas. Jesper Parnevik was in New York. PGA champion David Toms couldn't get out of Louisiana. Davis Love III was still in Atlanta.

Woods arrived Monday to conduct a clinic for American Express, the title sponsor with which he has a five-year endorsement contract.

''A lot of their executives left last night to go back to New York,'' he said, his voice trailing off.

American Express headquarters are located near the bottom of the Twin Towers.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the tournament still was on. The PGA Tour said it would begin Friday with 36 holes, followed by 18 holes on Saturday and Sunday.

That could change.

''I'm not sure whether we should even play this tournament,'' Justin Leonard said.

Bellerive Country Club has not seen the world's best players since 1992, the year Nick Price won the PGA Championship. His mind back on golf, but only momentarily, Woods' eyes lit up at the mention of the course he had just played: thick rough, tree-lined fairways and greens that were as fast as a major championship.

''The course is awesome,'' he said.

The gallery bustled with excitement when the gates opened at 7 a.m. By mid-morning, lively chatter had been replaced by murmurs.

''I just don't feel like talking right now,'' Stewart Cink said.

''Please, not now,'' Colin Montgomerie said, waving away two reporters.

Chris DiMarco was going through the motions on the range. He wanted to go home to Florida to be with his family. He was stuck in St. Louis.

''I came out here just to take my mind off it,'' DiMarco said.

He paused.

''I'm not even sure what I'm saying, because I'm in shock from it all,'' he added.

Ernie Els lingered outside the clubhouse as he talked to South African PGA commissioner Louis Martin, his caddie, tour officials, and friends. His wife and daughter are in London, preparing to fly home to South Africa on Wednesday.

''I don't understand how these guys can even hit balls,'' he said, pointing toward the range. Two hours later, Els had joined them. What else was there to do?

Padraig Harrington of Ireland got in his rental car and tried to find a decent radio station. He heard the same, shocking news every time he pushed a button. He is sensitive to terrorism because of the numerous attacks in Northern Ireland.

''There is a feeling in the air of tragedy,'' Harrington said.

There was a greater feeling of uncertainty.

Not many players expect the tournament to be played this week. Woods is supposed to leave Monday for Paris to play in the Lancome Trophy.

''I wonder if I can even go,'' he said.

The following week is the Ryder Cup, one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year. That, too, was in doubt.

''We're supposed to leave in 13 days,'' Jim Furyk said. ''It's an important event. It's the Olympics for us. But there are more important things in life.''



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