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|| News Item: Posted 2000-06-28

Tiger Hunting
By Anthony P. Bolante, Reuters

Photo by Anthony P. Bolante/Reuters

Photo by Anthony P. Bolante/Reuters
Mariner game 62 of the season. Sonics game 38 of the season. We've all been there. Golf, unlike team sports, can unexpectedly sneak up on a sports shooter (unless we shoot it for a living). This year's U.S. Open is a classic example of jumping onto a running treadmill. However, from day one at Pebble Beach last week, there was an air of uniqueness at this ever so-subtle sporting event.

I am not a golfer. My first golf-photo lesson was a few years back at the PGA Championship. I was told that in order to properly cover an event, I should learn as much as possible about the game and the contenders before going in for coverage. Granted, this is a no-brainer concept preparing for any assignment, however, the intricacies of the ever-changing hierarchy of the PGA Tour had always puzzled me.

This time, as illiterate as I am in the sport, I had a gut feeling from the get-go (you called the card there Cameron) that Tiger Woods was the one to watch at this event. Sure I knew that he won the Masters in Augusta in 1997. He's dominated the tour in winnings up to that date. But something was electric about Tiger's performance ever since the first tee-off on day one.

Little did I know that Tiger's performance in Monterey was going to be so significant and symbolic, considered perhaps the best round of professional golf ever played. It was certainly the most lopsided (a sports reporter gave me the analogy that if Tiger was an Indy driver, his incredible performance equated to lapping the second place driver).

The challenge was for the Reuters News Pictures team assigned to cover the 100th US Open from July 15-18, 2000 to capture the magic that unfolded, hole-by-hole.

With an experienced team, that included Win McNamee, Gary Cameron, Kevin Lamaque, Lou Dematteis and J.T. Lovette, it was a general consensus among us that Tiger was the one to watch during this tourney.

He was hot. From the start, Lamarque's Ryder Cup and British Open experience and Cameron's recent Kemper Open experience tagged them as the initial Tiger coverage team. Reuters being the international agency it is, the rest of us were relegated to covering the regional (foreign) golfers for the first few days.

However, after the second round was completed, it became abundantly clear that our coverage on the regionals would significantly drop and the majority of our focus would be on the Tiger.

Sure enough, when the third round ended with Tiger so many strokes ahead of the pack, it actually made it easy for the Reuters photo crew to focus on 'THE STORY.' "Tiger is obviously going to win this thing," we all said Saturday night. The challenge was how can we best capture the 'moments' of the deciding Sunday that would go into the history books.

By the grace of God (on my behalf) and as the dominoes fell, Win assigned Lamarque, Lovette and myself to walk all 18-holes with Tiger. The rest of the team was going to setup the 18th hole to ambush Tiger for the jubo shots that would surely mark history.

From the first tee, the droves of spectators were buzzing with excitement as those little yellow polypropylene guy lines kept the crowd back from trying to get onto the course to get closer to that magician, Tiger.

Unlike previous days where all of us would walk the equivalent of two courses bouncing around covering various regional golfers, we just had to walk one course with Tiger. The challenge for the three of us on the final round was hole-by-hole, keeping vigilant for those nuances that Tiger might exhibit that would tell the story of his dominance.

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Hole by hole, I even realized (the non-golfer ... hey, I grew up in Honolulu. Ask me about surfing or rock climbing) that this guy was amazing. He was hot. Birdie after Birdie after Birdie, Tiger kept shaving the strokes off of his tally.

As we approached 16th hole, I could really feel the electricity building on the course. The spectators kept bowing "we're not worthy" as Tiger would walk by. And as we got closer to the 18th hole, the hoard of photographers grew and grew and grew.

We were all on a Tiger hunt.

When Tiger sunk that putt on 16, I risked a photo with the short zoom that only one other photographer beside myself risked the angle. Since Lamarque and Lovette were going with the big glass, I decided to retry a photo I had attempted of Tiger a few days before. This time, the stars lined up and I was able to capture a classic Tiger arm-pump, but this time, with the leader board in the background showing him clearly15 strokes ahead of Ernie Els. Tiger as -12 on 16 while Els was +2.

It was truly amazing. I owe my success to that photo largely to Cameron's advice and McNamee's tight editing. And, I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I was nowhere near the photo pack.

That one moment made the whole agonizing process of miles and miles of golf walking worth it!

Anyway, as the THICK crowds massed on 17 and the approach to 18, we all hoped that Tiger wouldn't 'choke' on his last few strokes. He didn't.

The approach to the 18th green was truly an amazing experience for me. I'm a runner, rock climber, and surfer. I was watching this solo athlete do his thing with ever such skill, it was magic to watch. Tiger, his club and that little white ball.

When he got that ball to the green in four strokes, it was as if the eagle had landed. The packed grandstand erupted with cheers. The photographer hoards were quiet in focus to capture the moment. But by the time Tiger setup to make his fourth stroke (he missed this putt), the entire Reuters photo crew lined the 18 from every angle. Our disk runners had acquired a golf cart for the final disk run to the trailer.

Everything was ready. Every photographer held their breath. Tiger setup for the final three-foot putt. He sunk it, pumped his arm, raised his hat, and it was all over. Tiger won by15 strokes over Els.

Our disks were on their way back to the trailer faster than it took for Tiger to walk over to his mom to hug her after he just won his third major in his young career.

The Reuters crew was elated that there was no playoff scenario and that after a grueling five days, Tiger-mania was all over at a reasonable hour. We dismantled the trailer (as we have for countless other assignments), bid each other safe journeys and contemplated the next time we get to see history again. This Tiger hunt was a success. I was glad to be there.

(Anthony P. Bolante works for Reuters News Pictures in Seattle, WA.)

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