Grand Blanc, Mich. After a dominant performance, amid extraordinary cheers, Tiger Woods took the microphone and delivered a eulogy.
Farewell to the Buick Open: born in 1958, vibrant to the end.
“I’ve played golf all over the world,” Woods said, “and I’ve never seen a day like today before.”
What makes you say that, Tiger? Was it the fans around the 17th green at Warwick Hills screaming “Tiger! Tiger!” — when you were on the adjacent eighth hole? Or was it the swirling mass of people that cheered every one of your shots like it might be the last time they ever see you swing a club — because it very well could be?
Maybe it was the Ryder Cup-style chants of “Ole! Ole!” and “One more year!” and, especially “Save the Bu-ick!”
Or was it what happened when you finally got to 17?
The crowd roared like Woods had just won his 15th through 20th major championships. Tiger hit a perfect tee shot, nice and safe, 21 feet past the pin. He two-putted for par.
Then he tossed his ball into the stands. He still had one hole to play.
“I don’t ever do that,” he said. “But this is different. We’re not coming back here. And I just wanted to say thank you to all the people here.”
Why not? The people had been thanking him all week. Woods couldn’t walk three steps without somebody saying, “Thanks for coming, Tiger!” On No. 1 Sunday, fans chanted his name when he ducked into a Porta-John, then gave him a rousing cheer when he walked out.
Tiger would admit there were moments when his golf game did not earn the applause. At times Sunday, he appeared to be playing with somebody else’s swing. He hit an awful chip on No. 1, stuck his tee shot on No. 2 into the rough, and he was so disappointed with his approach on No. 6 that he uttered a string of words you can’t use in Scrabble.
That could have wrecked a lesser golfer. Tiger was unfazed and shot a bogey-free 69. He has won 69 PGA Tour events, four shy of Jack Nicklaus’ mark. Sixty-nine victories, 69 ovations, and yet ...
“I’ve never played in front of fans like this,” he said. “This has been incredible. Especially with what’s going on here in the area, it makes it that much more special.”
That is why he broke decorum as he walked off 17. Normally, with Tiger, he is stoic until he holes out on No. 72. Not this time. He smiled at the fans as he walked toward the 18th tee.
And he tossed that ball into the stands. It landed on the fly in the hands of Nick Long, a 19-year-old Rochester, Mich., native and rising sophomore at Albion College.
This was Long’s first trip to the Buick. Catching a ball from Tiger Woods should have been the first of a lifetime of memories for Nick Long at Warwick Hills. Instead, it will probably be the last.
After Long and his friends practically skipped out of the grandstand, the famed 17th hole looked like any other hot spot after the party ends. Beer cups were scattered. Empty water bottles were strewn along the ropes. Fans walked around the green. The flagstick had been removed; they won’t be needing that anymore.
And in the middle of the lake, a Buick LaCrosse appeared to be floating. It was an optical illusion, of course; the car was on an underwater pedestal. Alas, that appears to be the only way anybody can keep a Buick from sinking.