FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Tiger Woods started Day 2 of the PGA Championship far closer to the tournament’s likely cut line than to the leaders. Many big names were ahead of him, but Woods had the crowd behind him.
Golf has its share of talented young stars, including this tournament’s leader, Brooks Koepka, who has taken a commanding lead while playing in the same group as Woods.
Yet, when they went to the tee box, the roar of the gallery let you know that while Koepka may be on fire, there is only one Tiger Woods.
He remains the most important golfer in the game, lifting its popularity and bankability. That much was clear even as he struggled to find fairways on his drives, left wedge shots short and otherwise labored through the difficult Bethpage Black course for a second straight day.
Many in the gallery were still reveling in his victory at the Masters Tournament last month, which capped a miraculous comeback from injury and personal problems. And they were pulling for another miracle Friday, hoping that some way, somehow, Woods could play his way back into contention. But it was not to be. Woods did not make the cut.
“I came over here to see Tiger,” said Bobby Henderson, a retired trucker who drove to Long Island from northern New Jersey to attend his first professional golf tournament. He watched closely with hundreds of others as Woods hit the practice green before teeing off. “I’m drawn to his competitiveness as much as his greatness. There was a time that he seemed superhuman. But now, after his problems, we know he’s human. And I like that.”
Henderson’s buddy Bobby Rambone, a public works employee, put it succinctly. “You had Muhammad Ali. You had Michael Jordan. Now you have Tiger Woods,” he said.
Woods’ celebrity was apparent, as thousands of fans lined the fairway on every hole he played. They chanted his name and yelled out encouragement. “Go, Tiger! One time, Tiger, one time!”
The crowd to the left of the fairway was buzzing as Woods stepped to the first tee. Moments after he struck the ball, someone yelled, “Fore!” and people scrambled with hands over their heads until the ball landed among the spectators standing in the tall grass.
The crowd parted as Woods made his way over. But then they pressed in, camera phones held high, as Woods lined up his second shot of the day. “Hit it in the hole, Tiger,” one man yelled out. “Come on, Tiger.”
The crowd fell silent as Woods lashed his second shot and this time found a bunker. He managed to get out of the sand and preserve par, but he was obviously struggling.
Yet the crowds continued to follow him through the hills of Bethpage Black. They roared and gasped and frequently moaned as approach shots came up short and drives missed the fairway.
“I can’t see. Is Tiger in all black?” one guy asked as Woods could be seen in the distance approaching the second hole. “It looks like he hit the ball just 20 yards — on purpose.” Woods ended up bogeying that hole.
And so it went for most of the day. His many fans were disappointed but still happy to see him.
Ronald Lee, 54, and his nephew Damian Alvarez, 48, made their way from Queens to watch Woods in action. It was the first time either of them had attended a PGA event. Although they were new to the gallery, it did not take them long to figure out that if you want to actually see Woods hit, it is best to skip a couple of holes ahead to get a spot on the front row of the fairway.
“It’s a little strategy to navigate the crowd,” Lee said. “I’ve always respected Tiger. He’s the reason why I started playing golf myself.”
By the fifth hole, Woods was still 3 over par and there was worry creeping in that he would not make the cut, much less be able to catch Koepka by Sunday. “He’s 3 over. He’s got no shot. It’s over,” a voice in the crowd said.
The voice was right. Still, the crowd was still roaring for Woods by the time the announcer called his name as he approached the 18th green. Woods gamely tipped his cap before lining up his final shots of the day. He tried to run the ball in from the rough about 40 feet out, but it didn’t drop. He then finished up with a short putt. He was 3 over par for the day and 5 over par for the tournament, leaving him 1 shot away from making the cut.
Afterward, Woods said he was disappointed but not discouraged. He missed some putts he should have made and committed other small golfing sins. In addition, he said, he has been feeling ill this week. “I’m not playing the weekend, so I’m disappointed,” Woods said. He added: “There is no reason why I can’t get up to speed again.”
His fans seemed to share that confidence. Kymbre Zimmerman stood near the 18th hole in a dress and high heels, taking cellphone pictures of Woods to send to her mother. She had planned to attend the tournament all weekend, but with Woods out, she was changing her plans.
“I’m not really disappointed,” she said. “He did just do a wonderful thing, didn’t he? I’m very proud of him to be able to come back after all he’s been through.”