A six-year-old schoolgirl broke through heavy security around Tiger Woods today to get her hero’s autograph during one of his rare public outings.
Thousands of spectators, kept at a distance from the star, roared on little Ava Mulhall, from Innishannon, Co Cork, after she ducked under boundary fencing and ran onto a fairway after the top golfer.
Woods was playing the eighth hole at Limerick’s exclusive Adare Manor course as part of the celebrity Pro-Am organised by tycoon JP McManus.
Young Ava, who has been playing golf for over a year, already had her card signed by 19 other big-name players happy to give fans autographs – including Jose Maria Olazabal, John Daly, Fred Funk and Padraig Harrington.
But the elusive World No 1 had remained out of reach from all but one of the 40,000 who thronged the small, picturesque Adare village to catch sight of him.
In a daring move that drew delighted cheers from spectators, Ava darted onto the fairway and even dodged a steward who tried to block her, to get to the heavily-protected Woods.
Caught in her spotlight, the top golfer quietly signed the card and the Ballinadee National School pupil ran back to her father Colin and eight-year-old sister Grace with her mission accomplished.
“I’m delighted and I’m very proud,” said Ava, who is a member of the Old Head of Kinsale golf club.
Father Colin, a tax consultant, admitted he gave his daughter a little advice before she breached the security lines.
“I told her to run like hell, smile politely and say ’thank you’,” he revealed.
In his first appearance at a tournament outside the US since the controversy over his marital difficulties erupted last year, Woods led a four-ball in the charity play-off.
Swiss banker Bernard Droux, jockey and son of racehorse tycoon John Magnier, JP Magnier, and former Irish rugby international Brendan Mullin were his team-mates on the opening day.
Organiser and racehorse owner JP McManus and multimillionaire businessman Dermot Desmond, best known for his stake in Celtic FC, walked around the course along with Woods.
Desmond’s son, Brett, and singer wife Andrea Corr, Hollywood stars Samuel L Jackson and Hugh Grant, Premier League managers Martin O’Neill and Harry Redknapp and dancer Michael Flatley were among the other household names taking part.
Woods tees off again tomorrow morning with another team, including champion racing jockey AP McCoy and the now retired Mick Fitzgerald.
Roads into Adare suffered hours-long tailbacks throughout the day while hotels and guesthouses were booked out for miles around the village.
Amateurs taking part in the invitational event – being staged for the fifth time since the inaugural tournament in 1990 – must be either well heeled or well connected.
A team of three has to fork out €125,000 for the pleasure of sharing a round with one of the game’s biggest names.
This year, 12 of the world’s 15 top-ranked players agreed to compete in the two-day event which is expected to raise millions for charities in and around Limerick.