When Tiger Woods agreed to sit with a tiger for this week's cover, Matt Ginella, SI's picture editor for golf, was thrilled. But he didn't need to be told of the horrific headlines that would follow if anything went wrong during the shoot.
Dire thoughts were never far from Ginella's mind as he, creative director Steve Hoffman and senior staff photographer Heinz Kluetmeier flew to Woods's home base at Isleworth Country Club in Orlando on March 31. A few hours before the photo session, they joined up with animal trainer David McMillan of Tigers Eye Productions, which teaches people how to train exotic animals. Though Woods had agreed to sit with a cub, McMillan instead escorted into Isleworth's posh ballroom a pair of 650-pound adult male tigers, which he said were better trained and more manageable than a cub.
Indeed, things seemed perfectly manageable until Dimitri, a royal Bengal, got an accidental goose from a handler and leaped at Kluetmeier, who, remarkably, hardly flinched. When Samson, a snow tiger, lost his footing a few moments later on the canvas photo backdrop and darted across the room toward Hoffman, our intrepid creative director bolted for the door. "At that point, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry," says Ginella. "Here I had painted for Tiger's agent, Hughes Norton, a picture of Tiger with a little kitty. We thought there was no way Woods would agree to sit with either of these big cats."
But when Tiger arrived at the club, he displayed the coolness that has served him well in competition. He walked right up to Samson, and during 30 minutes of posing with the beast, on cue he looked intense and laughed, especially when McMillan joked that a bucket of meat held near the camera to keep Samson looking toward the lens was "all that was left of Fuzzy Zoeller." But Woods made it clear that there was one thing he wouldn't do. Before anyone had even asked, he announced, "I'm not going to growl."