Fans understand dichotomy of Tiger

4/30/2010 - Golf Tiger Woods

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tiger Woods couldn't remember what he was thinking after finishing his 10th hole in the first round of Thursday's Quail Hollow Championship. His mind was wandering in as many different directions as his tee shots flew in a three-hole stretch in which he knocked two balls into the water to go 4-over par.

He couldn't even remember fist-fiving 6-year-old Torraine Simpson as he made his way to the next hole.

Simpson won't ever forget it.

"That was a dream come true," said Simpson, who skipped school to follow Woods with his father, Charlie.

A lot of people -- young and old, black and white -- were chasing dreams on this day while Woods chased his swing. If they are upset with the golfer's countless affairs, which caused sponsors and advertisers to jump ship, they aren't showing it amid these tall pines and holly bushes.

Fans lined up eight deep with temperatures barely reaching 40 degrees when Woods teed off on the 10th hole with Stewart Cink and Angel Cabrera at 7:40 a.m. ET. By the time they reached the turn, the gallery lined every hole from tee to green as though this were the final round of the Masters.

There were no boos or taunts. There were no airplanes carrying banners with disparaging messages. There were just words of encouragement, from "Go Tiger" to "Good luck, Tiger."

Not that heckling would have been tolerated. More uniformed police surrounded Woods' group than the threesomes behind or ahead of them had combined. At least six were on foot in full gear with loaded guns. At times, there were two uniformed police on Segways with two more on bicycles.

As tournament director Kym Hougham made clear earlier in the week, "We're not going to be scared to kick anyone off the property."

Nobody has been. Or, as one officer jokingly said, "We haven't shot anybody yet."

"We've been pleased," said S. Coerte Voorhees, a captain in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. "People might think of heckling, but then they look around and see a blue uniform. That's why we're here."

Voorhees admitted that extra security was brought in specifically for Woods and said it would remain in place as long as he's in the tournament. Odds are the extra security won't be needed. If fans wanted to protest, they easily could have done it with silence or by not showing up.

They showed up in droves and gave Woods the same respect they did before that well-documented Nov. 27 night when his world came crashing down after he crashed his Cadillac SUV at his Florida home.

"Oh, they've been incredible," Woods said of the fans this week, about the only reason he had to smile after his worst opening round at Quail Hollow by 4 shots. "The fans here, all the years I've been here, have been extraordinary, and today with it being … 45 degrees, for them to come out there and support us was pretty cool."

It was the same way at Wednesday's pro-am, where fathers and mothers brought their children to chase Woods for autographs and photographs.

"What we told them is, you can love the way he plays golf, [but] what he does with his personal life, you're not supposed to follow," said Stacey Reeves, standing off the 14th green with her 10-year-old son, Cameron, and his friends. "You have to separate the two. I don't think he's a great role model, by any means."

That was the same message Kris Rusak gave her twin 14-year-old daughters, Lauren and Erinn, who received a friendly smile from Woods as he left the fourth green Wednesday.

"We do not believe in the values of Tiger," Kris Rusak said emphatically.

But people didn't come to see the values of Woods. They came to see his monstrous drives and miraculous escape acts, such as the one he had early in Thursday's round when he hit his second shot from under a large holly bush and escaped with par on No. 4.

They also came to see how he interacted with the crowd -- or whether he would. They came to see whether he had his temper under control or dropped F-bombs as he has in the past when things went awry.

The temper on Thursday, considering how poorly Woods played, stayed buried. There wasn't much crowd interaction beyond a nod here and there because, as Woods said, "I had my head down struggling."

"I was dropping balls out of hazards and finding balls in trees, so I had my own issues out there," he said.

But there was a moment Wednesday that stood out and showed a side of Woods seldom seen pre-Nov. 27. As he left the first green, only a few feet away from where he fist-fived Simpson just 24 hours later, he stopped to pose for a picture with 6-year-old Andrew Nicholson.

It wasn't that he just stopped. He actually stood there smiling for more than 30 seconds while Nicholson's father, Andy, stumbled in shock to take a picture.

"I choked," said the elder Nicholson, who, in his hurry, cut his son's head out of the picture.

If anybody had potential to feel conflicted about Woods the golfer and Woods the husband and father, it was Nicholson, a pastor in nearby Gaston County. He wasn't.

"I hate what he's done," Andy Nicholson said. "I feel for his wife and kids. He's still the greatest golfer in the world. People make mistakes. I feel for him, but I believe in second chances."

Woods appears to have at least gotten a second chance from the fans at Quail Hollow, just as he received one in his first appearance since Nov. 27 at Augusta National.

As 12-year-old Tyler Vickery said after waiting more than an hour and a half for an autograph he never got, "I don't quite like him as a person anymore, but I like him [as] a golfer."

So does Simpson, who for at least a day or so doesn't plan to wash the hand Woods doesn't remember touching.

"He's still my favorite golfer," the 6-year-old said. "I don't care what he did."

David Newton covers NASCAR and occasionally golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.