This is about stalking Tiger Woods at the Masters. Assuming little new would be learned from sitting in on the man's 19th year of press conferences at Augusta National, I used my media credential to launch a low-level surveillance operation. For seven days, from the moment Tiger Woods arrived on the clubhouse grounds until the moment he left, I tailed him. Call this questionable, if not creepy, behavior. But I'll bet you're curious to know how it went.
The first problem of any stakeout is finding the right spot. Not wanting to risk lifetime banishment, I don't ask if Augusta National prefers fixed or self-climbing tree stands. The second-best post for hunting Tiger, I find, is a wooden bench beneath a hanging flowerpot on the front veranda of the clubhouse.
The front of the clubhouse is very much the back of the tournament. The hubbub is on the other side, with outside dining and golf masters being interviewed under the big oak as they come off the 18th. It's also under this oak that masters of a different kind—of companies, networks and markets—engage in the initial chitchat that ultimately leads to how the universe is run. This isn't where you catch Tiger. "Hot-foots" scarcely describes how he navigates this part of the property.
The champions' parking lot is the place for Tiger's unguarded moments. It's a pitch shot from the wooden bench, where I sit with the Augusta Chronicle on my lap as if peace and quiet are all I require at a world sporting event. And because it's Georgia, passersby, mostly members and their guests dressed as if for church, offer warm smiles instead of dirty looks even though they know I'm loitering.
One by one, Mercedes GL450 4Matics emerge from the shaded driveway known as Magnolia Lane, noiseless and identical, like giant silver beetles. The curved shell and sleek antennae of these SUVs, too, suggest something like evolutionary perfection. That every contestant at the Masters is given the same vehicle is one of many details that make this tournament unique. A small numbered decal on the rear window supplies the only means of differentiation other than the license plate. At a regular tour event, a sponsor might extend courtesy cars to players in a variety of colors, models and makes, with qualifiers and players of lower status perhaps having to obtain their own wheels. It's hard enough for a player to find his car at Augusta; how am I ever going to find Tiger's?
Despite the anonymity of the tinted windows, you learn to sense the operator. Halting and uncertain, rookies overdo the brakes. Veterans whip through the champions' lot, not as a shortcut, but to taste what's possible before continuing on to the lot behind the range. Before they make the roundabout—where patrons endlessly queue to snap photos of themselves tending the flagstick propped in the flower bed shaped like the United States—you can often guess a past champion just by the steady, even speed.
But then... a black one! A Mercedes GL550 with thin tires, badass rims and a layer of dust along the underbelly, claiming its spot in a sea of silver. The driver is bang on two hours before his tee time, just as he'll be all week. The only exception will be Saturday, when he rolls up hot and bothered really early, keeps it idling as a security guard hops in, then returns before speeding off. Some meeting with the tournament committee about a drop and a possible rules violation.
BRINGING A PIECE OF HOME ON THE ROADTiger Woods flew in on his jet from Jupiter, Fla., but he had his car driven the 534 miles to Augusta. "It's not a normal week, but he tries his best to make it a normal week," says Glenn Greenspan, Tiger's publicist. Tiger's mother, Tida, will drive the silver loaner. I tell Greenspan this will make my job easier, and he laughs nervously, uncertain about my mission for the week, of which I've just briefed him.
Caddie Joe LaCava gets out of the passenger side. Tiger, dressed impeccably with his golf shoes already on, pops the remote, and there in the trunk lies his bag, alone on its belly. Instead of four guards in the lot, one at each corner, there are now eight. Mark Steinberg, Tiger's agent, and Chris Hubman, Tiger's CFO, materialize. Both are physically fit, goateed men in Nike shirts with dark crew cuts, and so almost indistinguishable.