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PGA National (Champion Course)

The Loop

Record Crowds in Arizona; Not So Much in Dubai

February 01, 2008

A record crowd of 83,657 got to see Charles Warren grab the first-round lead at the FBR Open on Thursday, and as Larry Dorman writes in the New York Times, that's 10,657 more than the capacity for the 73,000-seat University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of Sunday's Super Bowl. It's possible with the Super Bowl in town that attendance figures this week at TPC-Scottsdale will exceed the record 536,767 from 2006. One can only imagine how big the crowds would be if Tiger Woods were here.

Instead, Tiger's playing on the European Tour this week at the Dubai Desert Classic. Not surprisingly, he's leading the tournament after rounds of 65-71. Of the prominent names, Henrik Stenson (68-70) is two back, Sergio Garcia (68-71) three back and Ernie Els (68-72) four behind.

Bob Smiley, who's a TV writer and contributor to's golf coverage, wrote an entertaining piece about following Tiger on Thursday.

The best part is obvious, Smiley writes: There's no one here. Last week at the Buick, I had to buy an $85 periscope just to catch a glimpse of the greatest golfer in the world. So far in Dubai, the crowd is never more than one or two deep, which means all the things players say to each other that you normally can't hear, you can. The best line of the day came from Colin Montgomerie after Tiger drilled a drive on the 485-yard par-4 sixth hole. Monty waited until the ball came to a stop some 315 yards away, then said with a smirk, "This kid's got potential."

The one rule that no one seems particularly worried about (except for Tiger's caddie Steve Williams) is the fact that almost everyone in the gallery has cameras. And not the little cameras people hide in their pockets in the U.S. I'm talking about big ones with 12-inch zooms. The most egregious rule breaker was the guy next to me on No. 10 who filmed Tiger's tee shot with both his video camera and still camera--at the same time.But to be fair, what can you expect when the crowd is almost 100 percent tourists? Unlike every other tournament in the world, no one here is actually from Dubai. People from India and England make up most of the crowd, but over the course of the round I pick up German, French, Chinese, even Russian. According to Ali, a Dubai-based Brit I meet along the 13th hole, golf is gaining popularity in Dubai, but at the end of the day most Arabs find golf "completely boring.

The comment reminded me of my taxi driver from the airport. When he asked why I was here, I said, "to watch Tiger Woods," which was met with the surprising answer of "Who?" "Tiger Woods?" I said. And then, not believing I had to add it, "The golfer?"

Finally, it clicked. "Ah. Yes," he said, then kept driving. It wasn't exactly the exciting response Nike, Gatorade and Buick expect to be generated by their biggest spokesman.