Still plenty of entertainment in the off-Broadway show
On a bright Friday afternoon, the galleries for Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and John Daly, who is playing just behind them, are like a plague of locusts. You can see the crowds swarming way off in the distance.
There's Broadway, but then there's off-Broadway. The other pairings basically exist in the shadows where marshals need not ask for quiet. The differences are quite stark since close to 90 per cent of spectators are following the afternoon's two marquee groups. It speaks volumes for the few who follow the lesser lights.
'I can watch McIlroy tonight on TV. I see him all the time anyway,' says Jack Choi from Hong Kong, who with his friend, Albert, are among four people following the trio of France's Gregory Bourdy, Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng and Mohd Siddikur of Bangladesh.
At precisely midday, McIlroy, Poulter and Italy's Edoardo Molinari are on the first tee. Ten minutes later Daly follows them, along with China's Liang Wenchong and England's Ross Fisher. Only the caddies and the scorekeeper are around 10 minutes later when Bourdy, Prayad and Siddikur tee off. If you're looking for a quiet place to sneak a phone call, this would be it.
But it's not just this three-ball that is being ignored. A couple of groups back, there is a former British Open champion playing with not a soul in the gallery. I mention this to a friend following Daly and he says, 'Paul Lawrie? Well, he didn't really win. It was gifted to him by [French player] Jean Van de Velde.'
Be that as it may, Lawrie's name is still on the trophy. But such is off-Broadway life. Sidikkur is obviously an interesting story - not many golfers are emerging from Bangladesh these days. He sits at six over par and will miss the cut, but when he hits a nice tee shot on the third hole and one person claps, he makes a point of tipping his hat.
Two holes ahead of him, Poulter is running down the fairway like the Mad Hatter, nary looking up. When he scrambles to make a par, the crowd claps loudly but elicits no reaction from him.
He is a walking billboard. There are corporate logos on Poulter's collar, sleeves, chest and cap. Siddikur's shirt is unadorned and his cap has a simple Titleist insignia. He's playing the same tournament as Poulter, but just barely.
'You know, if I wanted to fight the crowds I would have stayed in downtown Hong Kong today,' says Albert. '[It's] much more relaxing following these guys around here. And I like the French guy Bourdy. He seems like a decent guy.'
For Albert and Jack, it's almost like playing a round with their favoured players. You can hear every intimate conversation the golfers have with their caddies. But when I wander ahead to Daly's swelling gallery, the vibe changes drastically.
Beer sales seem to be pretty brisk in this group. Daly, and a sizeable contingent following him, is wearing his trademark Loudmouth gear. He has on some snazzy, bright green pants printed with white shamrocks. 'Brand new design,' says David Suzuki, Loudmouth's head of international markets. 'You like it?' I guess with a name like Noonan, I have to like it.
I ask David if he would consider creating Loudmouth pants incorporating Siddikur's national flag - a bright red sun on an emerald green background. He's going to get back to me on that.
While the Daly gallery morphs slightly into the Poulter/McIlroy gallery directly in front of them, it seems far more festive. Daly pounds his drive on the seventh hole well off the fairway and almost before the ball lands, a small boy with a mop of blond hair and clad in Loudmouth pants patterned after the US flag makes a beeline for the ball. 'Who's that? Mini-me?' I ask David. No, he tells me, it's Little John, Daly's eight-year-old son.
Back in Siddikur's group, things are moving at a measured pace. There were no gaudy appearance fees for this trio. While McIlroy has been kicking around Asia for several months and could have US$5 million to show for it, the combined career earnings of the group I am watching probably won't approach that figure. But no one seems to mind. In fact, the solitude may take the pressure off.
'I think it's good to see the energy out there for the big names; we can feed off it too,' Siddikur says afterwards.
He says one his favourite moments was when a huge gallery followed him in Malaysia last year in the final group with Adam Scott. 'You have to like to play in front of crowds out here,' Siddikur adds. Even off-Broadway likes to get on once in a while.