CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Tiger Woods was inside talking to reporters about playing his second tournament of the year Wednesday when a Tiger-like buzz began near the first tee.
Michael Jordan had been spotted near the putting green.
Soon a swarm of thousands craned their necks for a clear view as the new owner of the Charlotte Bobcats hit his first shot in the Quail Hollow Championship pro-am.
Throw in Bobcats coach Larry Brown following him for the final 10 holes, and you had a day of not only star watching, but intrigue, too.
Shouts of, “Thank you for buying the Bobcats, Michael!” battled for time with, “Are you coming back, Larry?”
While Brown just smiled and waved as he remains undecided on his future, the crowd soaked up Jordan’s second appearance playing in this pro-am.
“Every time I’ve come back and done anything in North Carolina, they’ve been very supportive of me and positive,” Jordan said.
In 2007, Jordan played with Woods in a zoo-like atmosphere. This time, Jordan was paired with another PGA Tour friend, Fred Couples. Quail Hollow Club president Johnny Harris completed the threesome on the sun-drenched day. Jordan’s girlfriend, Yvette Prieto, followed the group for all 18 holes, too.
Jordan, who bought the Bobcats last month for $275 million, had hoped to be in Orlando on Wednesday for Game 5 of their playoff series. But after the Bobcats were swept by the Magic in four games in the franchise’s first playoff appearance, Jordan agreed to play.
It just had a different feel with Woods playing in an earlier group.
“It’s not as competitive,” Jordan said. “Freddie’s totally relaxed and enjoying himself and so am I.”
Jordan acknowledged he hasn’t had as much contact with Woods since his sex scandal hit in November. Quail Hollow marks Woods’ first event since his return last month at the Masters.
“It’s one of those things you can’t cure in one moment,” Jordan said. “It’s going to take some time. I think that’s what he’s been doing – at least from afar where I am. We haven’t talked as much as we used to be because I think he’s probably trying to get himself right. I’m all supportive of that.”
Jordan signed autographs after nearly every hole of his up-and-down round that included some wayward drives early, but also a birdie putt on the fifth hole and driving the green on the par-4 13th.
“His golf game is great,” Couples said. “In front of a lot of people it’s harder. Of 30,000 people out here, 20,000 are watching Michael. There’s a lot of pressure and they’re all yelling at him to do this or do that. It’s not too focused out there, but it’s always fun to play with him.”
Jordan has even been able to get Couples to buy a couple of season tickets, two of the 845 new orders the Bobcats have closed on as they build off Jordan-fueled excitement, according to team president Fred Whitfield.
It’s uncertain, though, if Jordan will close the deal on keeping Brown.
The nomadic Hall of Famer has had 13 pro and college head coaching jobs. He insists he won’t coach anywhere but Charlotte, but won’t close the door on stepping down or going to another team in a front-office role. His wife and children live in Philadelphia, where the 76ers don’t have a coach.
Brown talked on the back nine about missing his family.
“I’m going to take a couple of days and talk to (wife) Shelly,” Brown said.
Couples, the new season-ticker holder, chimed in.
“Larry’s staying, isn’t he?” he said. “If he’s smart he’ll stay a couple more years. … Orlando swept them but they’re a team on the rise. They’re short a player or two, but I think Michael can get that done.”
Jordan did a lot of laughing with the fans and playing partners. He told a woman his missing signature cigar was in his oversized green and white golf bag, which included pictures of old Nike Air Jordan shoes stitched on his club covers.
The North Carolina product talked trash with a Duke supporter in the crowd, and even flashed his familiar tongue wag from his playing days when he narrowly missed a long putt on the ninth hole.
“I haven’t been playing much, obviously, because of the team situation,” Jordan said. “Now that the season is over, I’ve still got a few things to do, but I’m looking to play a little bit more.”