AUGUSTA, Ga. — It came as no surprise that the driving range at Augusta National was packed at 10 a.m. on Thursday. It was opening day at the Masters, after all, and Tiger Woods was about to show up. There wasn't an empty seat to be had, and in fact, a security guard told patrons, who stood 15-deep to the hedges that bordered the back of the viewing area, to stop filing in.
Tiger attracting a crowd is nothing new, of course. But as his first round unfolded, fans following him from their couches believed they were seeing a first. Tiger Woods chewing gum? During a tournament?
From that flawless range session to a solid opening 70, Woods chomped his way around Augusta National and people took notice on Twitter. Here's a sampling:
But was Woods grinding on gum while grinding out a two-under score in breezy conditions really that unusual? A search on Getty Images for "Tiger Woods gum" produces only one hit, but it goes way back to the 2006 Dubai Desert Classic. At that point, Woods was the defending Masters champ—and still wearing baggy, pleated pants:
Google searches for the same thing produce a bit more info on this munching mystery. There's an Ohio State message board in which a thread was started during the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open about Tiger chewing gum at Torrey Pines.
And more telling was a New York Times article by Karen Crouse from last month in which she writes, "Tiger Woods noted that Michael Jordan chewed gum when he played basketball and said he has chewed gum on occasion for a quick sugar boost." Hmm. That was a pretty good jaw workout for someone who only only chews "on occasion."
Crouse's piece focused on Phil Mickelson, who not surprisingly, has a more calculated reason for taking up chewing gum this year: to boost his cognitive functioning. No, really.
“The chewing aspect stimulates the frontal cortex,” Mickelson told Crouse.
And studies have backed that up. The National Institutes of Health found a correlation between chewing gum and enhanced productivity and reduced cognitive errors. The NIH also found "a moderate dose of caffeine consumed before and during a round of golf improves golf-specific measures of performance and reduces fatigue." As a result, a Colorado company called Apollo Gum introduced a product called Golf Gum, which includes natural caffeine and B-vitamins.
Then there's this from Psychology Today: "Another interesting way of reducing stress is having a piece of chewing gum. The brain of a person who chews gum generates specific types of waves. These waves resemble those produced by the brain of a happy person. In addition to this, chewing gum improves blood flow which naturally reduces anxiety."
Looks like I need to put a few packs of Juicy Fruit in my golf bag, pronto.
Sadly, we don't know what kind of gum Woods was chewing on Thursday (I bet Big Cat is a Big Red guy) or if he's following Phil's lead (His quick media scrum with reporters was also about 15-deep). But to answer the question that seemed to gnaw at those watching, it wasn't the first time Tiger has masticated his way around a golf course. And judging by the way he played, it won't be the last.