Hunting a tiger: Woods draws largest crowds during PGA practice

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman . Fans watch as Tiger Woods tees off during a practice round on Wednesday.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman . Fans watch as Tiger Woods tees off during a practice round on Wednesday.

JOHNS CREEK — At about 11 a.m. Wednesday, the crowd surrounding the putting green at Atlanta Athletic Club swelled exponentially, cameras and smartphones held high in attempts to capture their No. 1 target.

Thirty minutes prior, Tiger Woods began his official PGA Championship press conference in front of the media throng, some 300 credentialed professionals crammed into a room just big enough to hold them.

“The golf course is in perfect shape,” Woods told them. “It’s gonna be a hot week and it’s gonna be a fun one,” he added.

Woods — back from injury and playing in his first major tournament since April’s Masters — made his way to the putting green after fielding questions. Fans gathering around to watch the man wearing bright blue and sporting a 10 o’clock shadow made no mention of his tumultuous two years, ones that included a series of knee troubles, a massive sex scandal and not a lot of winning.

Cries of “Is that Tiger?,” “That’s Tiger!” and “Please sign this Tiger!” dominated the conversation.

As Woods left, a rush on the gates near the exit ensued, getting about as rough and testy as a golf crowd gets.

“It was really tough, all these people were trying to push and shove,” said Mitchell Potts, 16, of Johns Creek. “I was shaking I was so nervous.”

Potts and pal Stuart Ascher were two of the lucky few to get autographs, Woods’ signature inked on their collectible PGA Championship flags.

“I had kind of given up because after he finished his nine holes (Wednesday morning) he went to the clubhouse and didn’t even look at the fans,” Ascher said. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Woods played the front nine at Atlanta Athletic Club on Tuesday before teeing off on the back nine at the crack of dawn Wednesday. As he walked the final few holes, the gallery following him was more reminiscent of the second or third day of a major, not the day before the tournament starts.

Asked his realistic expectations for the week, Woods put on his typical coy front with the media, saying, “A ‘W.’” After a round of laughter, he continued.

“You want me to elaborate? A nice ‘W.’”

As Potts put it, “he’s still Tiger Woods.”

“I got (an autograph from) the No. 1 guy in the world right now, Luke Donald, but I would have rather gotten Tiger Woods,” Potts said. “Gosh that was an amazing feeling. I’ve never been so happy in my life.”