I follow at least 10 threesomes Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club. The Phil Mickelson group attracts a crowd, as do Greg Norman and Chris Evert, as does Sergio Garcia. But the crowd is not overwhelming. If you want a space next to the ropes, and you walk fast enough, you can find it. I can't prove it, but the crowd feels smaller than it did a year ago.
I'm watching golfers from the media grandstand at No. 18 when somebody says, "What's that?"
Over in the first tee is what looks like, from up here, a cattle drive. This isn't a gallery. This is a teeming mass. Thousands of people stand five deep, 10 deep. There are no ropes. There are only humans. And in the middle of them is Tiger Woods.
It's just another reminder of how much the man means to his sport. And how little most of the competition matters.
The Masters could gouge you if it chose. Hungry? Thirsty? Where else are you going to go?
But Augusta National does not. Prices are consistently civilized. An imported beer is $3,75, a domestic beer $2.75. Coffee is $2, as is ice cream. For $1.50 you can buy a sausage biscuit or an egg salad, pimento cheese, ham and cheese on rye, tuna salad or turkey sandwich. The sandwiches don't taste as if they were plucked from a machine. They're good.
I saw a man from my past Thursday. If you are of a certain vintage, he's from your past, too. Playing with Rory Sabbatini and Dustin Johnson was Captain Kangaroo. He use to have a kid's show. Everybody watched. We didn't have video games or computers.
Kangaroo was struggling. I don't cheer anymore at sporting events; I've spent too many years pretending to be professionally impartial. But I wanted to scream, "Come on, Kangaroo! Don't quit, Kangaroo! Tiger is (after six holes) over par, too, Kangaroo! Do it for Mr. Moose, Kangaroo! Do it for Mr. Green Jeans!"
Alas, my support didn't help. Craig Stadler finished five over par.