Bryce Miller: McCumber, Baker share 'magical' Farmers round with megastar Tiger Woods

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Tyler McCumber tracks his ball as Chris Baker, right, and Tiger Woods watch during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in San Diego. - Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS

SAN DIEGO — Mustering as much courage as his small frame could deliver, a very young Tyler McCumber stiff-armed fear and extended a hand to Tiger Woods. Never mind that it was in the middle of a men’s restroom.

And never mind that the greatest golfer on the planet still had one important item left on his bathroom to-do list.

“I was so excited, ‘Mr. Woods, my name is Tyler McCumber,’ ” McCumber, 28, said of the chance encounter during the PGA Tour’s Disney stop in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. “I went to shake his hand and he’s like, ‘Hey man, let me wash my hands first.’ ”

On Saturday at the Farmers Insurance Open, McCumber spent a lot more time with Woods at Torrey Pines without a paper-towel dispenser in sight. McCumber and rookie Chris Baker, both ranked in the 400s, shared a round with the No. 6 player in the world.

The Golf Channel showed a graphic as an announcer quipped that the threesome shared 82 PGA Tour victories. Below an image of Woods, it displayed 82. Parked below his playing partners, a pair of zeros.

Walking to the first tee on the South Course, the men with a combined 3,160 Twitter followers joined a global sports star with 6.5 million. Woods’ nearly $120.5 million in career earnings, roughly the gross domestic product of the Micronesian island nation of Nauru.

With a swipe of a pairings pen, two players were thrown into a blender, tossed in a cement mixer, during an earthquake.

Baker tweeted, “Wait, I’m playing with Tiger Woods tomorrow? Am I being punk’d?” The post was liked more than 12,000 times, essentially the same amount of times the pair heard someone scream, “Let’s go Tiger!” during the raucous round.

An early draft of the tell-the-grandkids story already was taking shape.

“It’s still golf, but Tiger Woods right?” said Baker, 33. “He’s the best of my generation if not the best of all time. It was cool to meet him and spend four and a half hours of my life with him.”

The unhinged golf ecosystem known as a Tiger Woods gallery has the potential to rattle the molars of anyone with a pulse and a club. Baker, who won something called the Moroccan Golf Classic in 2010, had missed the cut in seven of his previous nine tournaments.

McCumber, the son of 10-time Tour winner Mark McCumber, understands the grind as well — with an Ecuador Open title on PGA Tour Latinoamerican bullet-pointed on his resume.

Woods is, well, Tiger Woods. Enough said.

“It was a pretty magical day,” McCumber said.

Part of the magic was outplaying Tiger with Tiger in tow. McCumber navigated the treacherous South Course without a smudge on his card — a bogey-less round of 4-under 68 to sit at 8-under for the tournament.

Woods was left looking up at him on the leaderboard, a stroke back.

“I think I did a great job of focusing and staying in my own zone and own bubble,” said McCumber, who along with Baker lives in Jacksonville Beach, Fla. “It was pretty amazing how nice playing with Tiger was. He was such a gentleman and he’s fun to play with. He made it about as easy as it could have been from a playing perspective.”

No one would blame either player for feeling a bit unnerved, leaning on bags next to the man tied with Sam Snead for the most victories in PGA Tour history. As the group approached the first tee after a two-hour fog delay, a volunteer described the looks on the faces of McCumber and Baker as a case of dinner-plate eyes.

Ice-breakers mercifully await.

“Someone (in the gallery) said, ‘We’re here for you, Chris,’ ” Baker said. “I said, ‘That’s what I thought, too.’ Got a chuckle out of that one.”

McCumber’s round drew praise from the ultimate name in golf.

“It’s cool to see him go out there and play as well as he did,” Woods said. “It was a different atmosphere for him, first time he’s been out in an atmosphere like that and he handled himself great.”

Baker tipped a post-round cap to Woods, as well.

“It was very cool of Tiger on No. 13, he lagged it to like 2 feet probably and I had a decent chance at birdie,” said Baker, who finished 2-over for the round and is 2-under for the tournament. “He marked it. I actually mentioned that to him and said ‘thank you’ because that was very nice of him to do that.

“The crowds, once he taps in, they go a little crazy. I think he knew I was struggling a bit. It was nice of him to mark that putt and let me have a chance to make a birdie putt.”

McCumber admitted to catching himself dissecting the singular situation.

“This is his track,” McCumber said of Woods winning eight times at Torrey Pines during his career. “I mean, watching the (2008 U.S.) Open here and how well he played and what he battled through is one of the greatest spectacles in golf history, so it was unbelievable.”

As the group walked off No. 18 on Saturday, McCumber and Woods shook hands.

No paper towels needed.


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