DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- I'm not a big traveler. Heck, before going outside to grab the mail, I'll sometimes peek out the window to see if what's sticking out of the box is worth the trip. And yet, just four days after following Tiger Woods all week at the Buick Invitational, I'm at Emirates Golf Club -- about as far away from Torrey Pines as possible without help from NASA.
Is it any different from a PGA Tour event? Uh, yeah. Is it still fun? You'd better believe it.
The best part is obvious -- 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."
In truth, this may be the first and last tournament of 2008 where seeing Tiger hit every shot in his round is easy. Or at least it should be if it wasn't for the marshals, who for some reason have decided the biggest crime known to man is walking while one of Tiger's playing partners is hitting a shot. It doesn't matter if Colin Montgomerie has his back to you and is a hundred yards away, the marshals hold up their hands, yell "Stand, please!" and we all resign ourselves to the fact we've just signed on for a 4½-hour game of Red Light/Green Light.
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.
Too bad my taxi driver wasn't out on No. 4 when Tiger nearly holed his shot at the 188-yard par 3. It landed about 5 feet short, almost rolled in, then stopped a few feet away for an easy birdie to get Tiger to 5-under-par and a tie for the lead. I had to find someone to revel in the moment with me, but the only recognizable faces I found belonged to reality TV's Rob and Amber, made "famous" via "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race." I wouldn't even mention they were here except that when Rob tried to take a picture of Tiger on the next hole, he was actually reprimanded by an official. I'm not sure how far reality show fame extends, but I can confidently say the border is somewhere west of the Persian Gulf.
But where Rob's power is waning, mine has never been greater. I've been granted a press pass for the week, and so I went to the press tent this morning, gave the attendants my name and was handed a free ticket, a pairing sheet and a press kit full of info that I misplaced while eating my complimentary breakfast.
The food was good, but the biggest perk of having the pass came after the round, when I was able to follow Tiger back to the press tent for his session with reporters. The first thing Tiger did was rattle through his entire round from beginning to end, reciting with little hesitation what clubs he hit for every shot on every hole. Honestly, I can't even tell you what hat I have on my own head right now. Outside of actually watching him shoot the opening-round 65, it was the most impressive thing I'd witnessed all day.
Then, given the chance to ask Tiger Woods anything in the world, the assembled reporters could come up with only six questions. Even Tiger seemed amazed, asking, "Is that it?" After one more question, it was. Tiger said thanks, stood up and I, thinking the guy deserved it, started to applaud. When no one else in the press tent followed my lead, I realized that real journalists aren't supposed to do that. They don't pick sides. They're supposed to be objective, unbiased. And me? Go get 'em, Tiger.
As for Friday, I've got a busy morning as I head out to see if I can get a closer look at the course Tiger's designing a few miles from here. I may not be allowed to play it, but I feel pretty good that at least someone will let me take a picture.
Bob Smiley is a TV writer and a contributor to ESPN.com's golf coverage. He's currently writing a book about Tiger Woods due out next year and also writes the golf blog Fore Right and can be reached at Bobsmiley77@gmail.com.