BETHESDA -- The first sighting was of Fluff, not Tiger. It came yesterday morning as Mike "Fluff" Cowan was walking the front nine at Congressional Country Club, checking out the course for this week's U.S. Open.
"Is Tiger playing today?" someone asked as Cowan, Woods' caddie, came off the ninth green.
"Where's Tiger?" someone else wanted to know as Cowan walked back to the parking lot.
By noon, the word was out.
Tiger Woods was coming to practice.
After a couple rumors of his appearance didn't pan out, Woods finally arrived at the club around 3 p.m.
Alysia Lassiter, 18, was working security at the door to the player's locker room.
"I was going to say something like 'Have a nice day' or 'Have a nice time,' but I was speechless," said Lassiter, 18, who will graduate from Broad Run High School in Ashburn, Va., next week.
In fact, as Woods went out to practice, Lassiter couldn't contain her excitement.
"Oh my goodness, oh my goodness," said Lassiter.
It was that way wherever Woods went. As he made his way to the practice tee, so did a couple thousand fans who climbed into the bleachers. Those who didn't get a seat just stood and watched, standing five deep.
Television crews lined up to get their shots.
"Hey, Jack, this is Burnett, he is out here," David Burnett, a reporter from Fox News in Washington, said into a walkie-talkie.
John Lyberger, the head pro at Congressional, met briefly with Sgt. Lee Marsh of the Montgomery County Police. Marsh, who heads up the security detail for the tournament, wouldn't say how many security people would be walking with Woods this week.
"But there will be enough to do the job adequately," said Marsh.
Woods acknowledged the crowd as he walked to the first tee, waving as fans clicked their cameras. The large crowd made it seem like a final round at the Open than just the first day of practice.
Reporters followed him, too, asking seemingly ridiculous questions like, "What did he hit?" after he unleased a tremendous drive on the par-3 second hole. Tigermania, which began when he turned pro last summer and has increased since he won the Masters, was in full force.
On the first hole, he hit a 2-iron straight down the middle of the fairway, but walked over to the rough and plopped a ball down to get a feel for its depth. After hitting a wedge onto the green, he took a few putts and then tossed a couple of balls into the bunker. Cowan put a tee into the green and Woods hit it with his first try.
When Woods sneezed on the fifth hole, there were a chorus of "Bless you's" from the gallery. He laughed, and seemed almost bemused by the attention. He played nine holes, and headed back to the range. A reporter asked if he could answer a few questions.
"Tomorrow at 1 p.m.," he said as he was swallowed up by the security detail.
Pub Date: 6/10/97