PALM HARBOR — Even the stars are starstruck.
The excitement of Tiger Woods playing for the first time in the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook this week is enough that Hall of Fame-level players in other sports are interested in watching him continue his comeback to the game he once dominated.
"He's a guy that moves the needle," former Bucs star Ronde Barber said before Monday's celebrity pro-am charity event, which benefited the International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics. "When you're around him, it's like being around the Michael Jordans of the world. You sense the presence, the worldliness. This guy is, or was at least, so much better than everybody around him. There's an air of greatness. He's inspirational that way."
Barber met Woods through another friend, golfer Charles Howell III, at the Tavistock Cup, a team golf event that was held in the Orlando area from 2004-13. He had the chance to talk with Woods then, and hopes to be able to shake his hand again during this week's tournament.
Phillies star and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, introduced by Barber at Monday's event as the greatest third baseman ever to play the game, said he met Woods once, at the Masters in Augusta, Ga., during his prime.
Both Schmidt and Woods have homes on the east coast of Florida in Jupiter, and Schmidt said he continues to keep an eye out for his neighbor when he's out.
"Apparently he doesn't go to Publix like I do," Schmidt joked. "I keep looking for him. They all know me, the meatcutters and everyone, but I don't see him around Jupiter. His coming here, and it does so much for the area. Everybody's abuzz and hoping they get a glimpse of Tiger. I can't tell you I'm any different. My wife and I will be out there, and I'm trying to find a spot where he might walk by."
Another baseball legend on hand Monday, pitcher Roger Clemens, said he's met Woods "a handful" of times over the years. Woods designed the El Cardonal golf course at the Diamante resort in Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of the Baja peninsula in Mexico, and Clemens was vacationing there and running on the sand dunes to train with his son, Kacy.
What can Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy expect in their first PGA Tour tournament on the Copperhead Course? Here's how 10 other top golfers fared their first time around. @ValsparChamp @Innisbrook @TigerWoods @McIlroyRory @PGATOUR @RodneyHomeTeam @TB_Times https://t.co/VHgK7QiWvT— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) March 4, 2018
"It was really cool for me as a dad, as he stayed back a few more days and got to play nine or 18 holes with Tiger," Clemens said of Kacy, 23, who played at Texas like his father and was drafted by Toronto last year. "He's actually here with the Blue Jays, so we're probably going to bounce out here and say hello to him on Wednesday."
Woods' first public appearance will likely Wednesday morning in the pro-am event that's open to the public, enough to make ordinary fans out of the celebrities.
"I want to see him up close," Schmidt said. "I want to hear what the ball sounds like when he hits it."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.