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Zany gallery knows no bounds

SAN DIEGO — You knew it wasn’t a typical gallery when before a hole was played, one spectator had passed out near the tee box and another fell from a tree behind the green. The first was carted away on a gurney. The second nearly broke his neck but escaped with a mud-stained outfit and a look of stupidity that didn’t do his tumble justice.

Memo to Tarzan: It’s golf, man. It’s not that important.

You knew it wasn’t a typical gallery when some goofball pulled a George Costanza and edged his way through the masses in an electric cart designed for the handicapped, shut it off and jumped on top for a better look at things. He apparently had more spring than LeBron James.

So this is what Moses felt like. The sea parted and thousands nudged ahead for a promised land of unobstructed views, and not those of stately pine trees and a sparkling blue ocean on the horizon.

It’s crazy. People just want to be part of something bigger than a major happening itself, to say they were there in case the remarkable occurs, to stand 12 rows deep with no likelihood of seeing anything beyond the large individual holding a periscope in front of them and not feeling all that bitter about it.

Well, most of them feel that way.

"This is worthless to watch," said Lauren Johnson, a senior at Texas A&M and all-Big 12 golfer. "It’s not real fun."

The 108th U.S. Open included 156 players when the tournament began Thursday at Torrey Pines, but only one grouping fascinated most of those hugging the South Course for an 8:06 a.m. tee time. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott played each other nearly even over 18 holes, which isn’t to say any were extraordinary. It was the scene that mattered, as bizarre as it was gigantic.

"You can’t get 50,000 or 40,000 people around one hole very easily," said Oliver Wilson, who played in the group ahead. "You can try."

They did. They stood on red crates and paint buckets and stools. They watched from trees, and some managed not to fall. They stared through so many periscopes, you half expected Simon Lake to pop up and demand a finder’s fee.

Phil Mickelson Sr. sells the black devices and ordered 650 for the Open. He needed twice that, given Papa Mickelson’s company sold about six times what normally moves in a tournament before one ball was struck Thursday.

The periscopes seemingly all were pointed toward the world’s top three ranked players, because if scoreboards didn’t insist otherwise, you might have thought no one else was competing.

Case in point: As the grouping behind The Big Three prepared to putt on the par-4 fifth, a marshal turned and held up his arms and requested silence. He must have been talking to the birds, because more of them were watching than humans.

The incredible setting one group ahead wasn’t proof to any sudden heightened curiosity about golf, but rather the popularity of Woods and Mickelson. It’s like nothing else in sports, the amount of passion and opinion declared by fans for two gazillionaires. It’s Notre Dame and USC, the Lakers and Celtics, the Yankees and Red Sox, all rolled into one and walking down a fairway.

It is why someone like Johnson set a plan to watch three holes but only saw 11/2 through the crowds. She waited 90 minutes on the sixth green, thought she had struck prime viewing gold and was promptly blocked by many of the 100 or so media members inside the ropes.

It is why someone like San Diego resident Gonzalo Mendes found a tree to sit in along the sixth fairway and waited for those seconds the celebrated names strolled by.

"I feel like Shaq," Mendes said. "I’m 5-8, so I decided to climb a tree."

You knew it wasn’t a typical gallery when every once in a while, a cattle call was heard inside the throng, when a reporter forgot about staying within that arm’s length rule inside the ropes and ambled merrily down the fairway behind the Woods’ pairing as if about to play a shot, when a young patron innocently remarked, "At least we get to see Tiger walk."

"It was pretty loud at times," said Woods, who double-bogeyed the par-4 first before grinding out a 1-over par 72. "Overall, it wasn’t as bad as I thought."

The threesome all are within five shots of the lead, but for thousands, how they performed Thursday seemed secondary. Many who weren’t there one day will insist otherwise. People want to be part of something big.

Funny. The same pairing does it all over again in today’s second round. One suggestion to those in attendance: Beware of Tarzan. The poor guy is a clumsy mess.

Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com

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