The NEC World Series of Golf is supposed to be a near major, with a field limited to tournament winners, a $2 million purse and, for the victor, a 10-year exemption. But for three years the play at Firestone Country Club in Akron has been overshadowed—by violence, by scandal, by a brawl and by Tiger Woods.
At 3 p.m. last Saturday, 35 minutes after leader Phil Mickelson had begun his round, taking a horde of spectators with him, a cardboard trash bin exploded behind the 1st tee, injuring three people and producing a cannonlike boom that was heard across the course. Coincidentally, the explosion erupted at almost the same spot where John Daly and the 62-year-old father of Jeffrey Roth wrestled one another to the ground in 1994 after Daly had twice nearly driven the ball into Roth's group. The blast behind the 1st tee on Saturday, and the incident two years ago with Daly, created more talk, and had greater consequences, than the routine wins by Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal in 1994 and Mickelson this year.
After the tight in '94, Daly avoided suspension by withdrawing from the Tour for the rest of the year, and last week's explosion at the World Series might force the Tour to use metal detectors—and have a regular police presence—at its events.
The incidents in '94 and last week were not the only black marks for the tournament recently. Last year's World Series was marred by the Greg Norman-Mark McCumber affair, in which Norman accused McCumber of cheating, and the difference between a bug and a blade of grass became a matter of honor and acrimony. The episode proved that one of the few people capable of upstaging Norman when he wins is Norman.
For the last three years the World Series has also been pushed aside by Woods's dramatics at the U.S. Amateur, which is held the same weekend as the Series. NEC is probably more thankful than Nike that Woods is turning pro.
Despite the loud boom, the explosion on Saturday turned out to be relatively minor. Thankfully, the area around the blast was largely deserted—the people injured were a volunteer and two spectators heading for the tournament exit—and the explosive device found made it look like the work of a prankster, not the Unabomber. The preliminary investigation by the Akron police department suggested a homemade firework, along the lines of an M-80 or M-100, which has the equivalent firepower of about a quarter stick of dynamite. Patrick Berarducci, a special agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said on Sunday, "There's a whole range of possibilities as to what the explosive could have been. The exact components and substance have to be determined by the lab." The evidence has been sent to the ATF lab in Rockville, Md., for testing.
The suspects in the blast are two young men who were seen dropping something into the trash bin. As SI went to press, no arrests had been made.
What was sobering about the incident, besides the injuries, was the sight of yellow crime scene tape stretched between trees and gallery stakes at an otherwise serene golf tournament. Agents in ATF jackets sifted through debris. A woman had blood running down her leg. An older man covered his ringing ears with shaking hands. Powder from the explosive and shredded beer cans lay near the 1st tee. Akron's deputy police chief even referred to the location of the explosion as "the grassy knoll."
Sobering, too, was the recognition of how vulnerable golfers are at tournaments. Luckily, the spectators near the blast were given a little warning to move away from the area by the pop of the ignition and the initial smoke from the explosive. If the bin had exploded 45 minutes earlier, about 1,000 fans of Norman would have been around the tee, and many would have been close to the blast site.
"I think it's just sad that some clown thinks he can get his thrills from hurting people," Norman said on Saturday. "We don't need that in golf. We don't need it anywhere in the world, especially after what we saw in Atlanta."