By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Teenager Ryan Fisher had the best spot on the course to watch Tiger Woods compete at last week's Players Championship in Florida but he was a bag of nerves before the world number one teed off.
Barely an hour before Woods was set to start his third round in the PGA Tour event at the TPC Sawgrass, the 17-year-old Fisher learned he had been assigned to carry the on-course scoreboard for the world's richest sportsman.
"I've never been so nervous, especially being that close to him throughout the whole time," the pencil-slim Fisher told Reuters. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and I just didn't want to mess it up for him.
"I came in that morning at a quarter to 10 and I was told I was in the 1035 group. I grabbed the pairing sheet and saw it was Tiger Woods. I just couldn't believe it. My immediate thought was: 'Don't screw it up'."
Fisher, a very occasional and "not very good" golfer who attends Ponte Vedra High School, spent the next four-and-a-half hours on Tiger's tail, walking inside the ropes on the Stadium Course at Sawgrass.
For the benefit of the spectators, he carried a tall scoreboard for Woods and fellow American Scott Verplank, amending the numbers after each hole to reflect where the respective golfers stood with regard to par.
Fisher had to know where to stand, when to stay perfectly still and when he could move while also acting as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the group's official marker, retired U.S. navy man Scott von Berner.
"Ryan did an extremely good job," said von Berner, who was working as a volunteer at his ninth consecutive Players Championship.
"I've walked with plenty of players and I've had plenty of stand-bearers and I would put Ryan in the top five. He had huge extra pressure on him that day with Tiger playing and he had to keep track of all the birdies, pars and bogeys."
Although Woods never spoke to Fisher during an erratic third round that yielded a one-under-par 71, the teenager did not find the world number one's silence at all surprising.
"Tiger was concentrating on his golf and I certainly didn't expect him to chat to me," Fisher said. "He's in his office when he's out on the course, and I respect that."
Carrying the scoreboard for the game's top player was always going to be a unique opportunity, and perhaps even more so given Woods's stunning fall from grace at the end of last year amid revelations about his extra-marital affairs.
Fisher, however, was totally unfazed by any ripple effect of the world number one's sex scandal.
"That's what happens off the course and once you step in here it's all about what happens on the course," he said. "You forget about everything else.
"It was such a great experience for me. Not many people can say they have walked 18 and carried for Tiger Woods."
Asked if he had noticed any negative reaction to Woods by the Sawgrass galleries, Fisher replied: "Nothing in particular.
"Everyone was really nice and courteous out here. I was expecting a few more hecklers or people not supportive of him but everyone on the course was really welcoming of Tiger."
The Stadium Course at Sawgrass is renowned for its exciting three-hole finish and the grandstand setting around the infamous par-three 17th and the 16th green can be electric.
Players arriving on the 17th tee during the afternoon can expect a rowdy welcome from well-lubricated spectators. So, too, can the stand-bearers.
"The atmosphere around 16 and 17 was unlike anything I have ever experienced," Fisher said with a broad grin. "When you walk by, they all yell out: 'Sign boy' or other much wittier comments. It's just an experience of its own."
While the whole day following Tiger was an experience to savor for Fisher, von Berner treasured the end of the round when he was presented with golf balls by Woods and Verplank.
"Getting a personal golf ball, whether they are signed or not, is a privilege and an honor," Jacksonville resident von Berner said. "I have maybe 60-70 golf balls and 70 percent of them are signed.
"Tiger doesn't sign his, there's just a line on them, but Scott Verplank has his initials 'SRV'. (American) D.A. Points is the most unique player I have walked with and he always has a saying on his golf balls. The one he signed for me had: 'Be very quiet' written on it."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)