Thursday 14 December 2017

Mount Juliet gets Tiger's seal of approval

Karl MacGinty

TIGER WOODS pitched a few words of his own into the torrent of praise for Mount Juliet yesterday, thought the World No 1 completed the front nine here so fast that course superintendent Aidan O'Hara should not have been surprised to find scorch marks on the fairways.

"The greens are perfect and the fairways are immaculate," said Woods as he strode purposefully across the practice range after one hours and 12 minutes of high-velocity golf which left a posse breathless.

"This course is as well conditioned as any we play in America," added the Tiger, who touched down in Cork yesterday morning after an overnight flight by private jet from Florida and then travelled by car to Mount Juliet.

A couple of hours later, he was still motoring, this time on the golf course, with caddie Steve Williams, manager Mark Steinberg, a couple of uniformed Gardai, two or three burly security men, a team of marshals, a gaggle of golf hacks and several hundred fans in his slipstream.

Woods breezed through the groups who started ahead of him. He picked up his ball on the first fairway and sped straight to the second tee when he spied Jim Furyk and Chris diMarco on the green ahead of him.

As he followed his drive down the second fairway, Woods turned and waved cheerily to his two fellow Americans as they drove over his head.

Carl Pettersson then politely deferred to the World No 1 on the third tee, while Vijay Singh and Nick Price received a cheery handshake for waving the rampaging Tiger through on the fourth.

He didn't pause on a putting green until he reached the par five fifth.

Occasionally, fans could catch a word or two of Tiger talk. Those standing close by the sixth green, for example, overheard him speculating that this week's winning score might be as low as "17 to 20" under par.

In his haste to get the day's business done, a few of the Tiger's tee shots went awry, including two which ended up in a fairway bunker at the eighth.

Yet, he showed his class and earned a ripple of applause with a few gloriously nonchalant approach shots, particularly a 130-yard wedge to within one foot at the fifth and another to two feet at the ninth.

Woods has played in Ireland and, indeed, at Mount Juliet, before, though never competitively and the prospect of seeing the Tiger bare his teeth for the first time here should ensure crowds of up to 30,000 per day.

Tickets will be on sale at the gates. Admission to practice today will cost fans ?25, while they will pay ?40 per day to watch the first two rounds of the championship and ?45 to see it come to a climax on Saturday and Sunday. There's no charge for U-12s, while senior citizens will be admitted to the tournament proper for ?32.

Looking back to his last visit to Mount Juliet in July, when Ireland was in the grip of a long, cold summer, Woods said: "It was colder then and the rough certainly wasn't as deep. The course really is in great shape right now."

Indeed, the greens were running a little too slick for European Tour officials on Tuesday after O'Hara and his team tweaked them up to 12 on the stimpmeter on Monday. They were back at the desired 11 yesterday, giving tournament administrator Neal Briggs better opportunities to set more demanding pin positions.

Every word of praise from the world's finest professionals has been hard-earned by Galwayman O'Hara and his team of 36 greenkeepers, who start preparing the course for play at 5.30 each morning.

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