Golf: Manning, Woods go shot for shot
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó Tiger Woods crouched behind the ball and eyed the cup with his steely glare. He then rose, moved forward and placed his putter to the left of the hole.
Peyton Manning nodded, addressed the ball ó and missed the putt.
“Bad read,” a fan yelled, producing a burst of laughter from the overflow crowd surrounding the 15th green.
It was part of a morning of needling, smiles, football talk ó and some good ball-striking, too ó as the world’s No. 1 golfer played 18 holes with his three-time NFL MVP buddy on Wednesday in the Quail Hollow Championship pro-am.
“We don’t get a chance to do it very often with our schedules and seasons overlapping at the wrong times, so when we do get an opportunity like that, it’s fun,” Woods said of playing with the Indianapolis Colts quarterback. “It’s trash talking the entire day.”
A grouping of the two superstars marked the second time that Woods was not the sole attraction the day before the tournament began. Before winning the 2007 event here, Woods played the pro-am with Michael Jordan.
Manning’s presence created a similar rare scene of fans waiting for Woods to clear the green so they could surround Manning with No. 18 jerseys and Colts helmets to sign. With Manning’s alma mater, Tennessee, a four-hour drive away, there was plenty of orange in the crowd, too.
“Whether it’s Peyton or when I played out here with MJ, we have fun, and that’s the thing,” Woods said. “These guys are my friends, and it’s great to play with friends.”
The 6-foot-1 Woods had to look up at the 6-5 Manning as they chatted in fairways and tee boxes. A bond created by their understanding of the pressure of fame and expectations, they became friends several years ago.
The duo played in a pro-am in 2005 at Bay Hill. They’ve also played private rounds together as recently as March in Florida.
Wednesday was hardly private. They teed off at 7:30 a.m. with several hundred fans craning their necks to see around the first tee. The crowd following them swelled into the thousands as the morning wore on.
Manning wasn’t immune to the aura of Woods. Midway through the round he was arranging for a photographer to take a picture of him and his caddy, Colts receiver Anthony Gonzalez, next to Woods.
“It’s everything you’d think it would be,” Manning said. “It’s really special. Watching him hit the ball, listening to him hit the ball, he tells great golf stories.
“He has a great interest in football. He follows football, keeps up with the Colts, which is cool. He’s a great host. He played great today, and we had a lot of fun.”
Manning’s not a bad golfer, either, although he acknowledged he had to overcome some early nerves.
With the help of Gonzalez, who Manning said agreed to caddy because “he wanted more catches,” Manning showed a powerful drive and decent iron game as he played from the member tees.
“He’s gotten better,” Woods said. “You can see he’s been playing all winter.”
It didn’t stop Woods from needling him. After Manning sank a putt for bogey following a couple of errant shots on No. 5, Woods joked, “Way to finish, Peyton.”
The third golfer in the threesome, Quail Hollow Club president Johnny Harris, noted that Manning’s tee shots had been sailing right as they approached the 14th tee.
“Don’t hit Foxy’s house,” Harris said, referring to Carolina Panthers coach John Fox’s home ó which sits to the right of the fairway.
Manning carried his tee shot past the house, but it was so far right it hit an elderly fan, drawing a chuckle from Woods.
“Sorry again,” Manning said to the man after he hit his second shot.
“You can do it anytime,” the man replied.
At No. 17, Manning faced a long, tricky putt from the front fringe. He yelled across to Woods, “Tiger, are you going to make yours?”
Woods just smiled. Manning went on to three-putt. Woods sank his putt for birdie.
“He can give it out with the best of them,” Manning said of Woods. “The problem is I’m always on his turf.”
“This is true, very true,” Woods said, laughing. “Keep it that way.”
After they each parred the final hole, the winner of 14 major titles and the former Super Bowl MVP shook hands and smiled before signing autographs for throngs of fans.
They then parted ways. Woods went to hit more balls as he prepared for today’s first round in his first tournament since the Masters.
Manning and Gonzalez headed home.
“I know what my day job is. I’ll be back in Indianapolis in probably two hours lifting weights,” Manning said. “We’ll be brought back to earth real soon.”