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I'm seated at a table in a skybox overlooking the 18th green, chatting with a distinguished-looking gentleman dressed in the traditional white robe and gutrah of the desert. He tells me that Tiger and Sheikh Mohammed share certain qualities of character and mind. "They both have vision," he says. "They are decisive. They enjoy the things they do." Both men, he adds, are uncompromising. "In his book Sheikh Mohammed writes, 'Second is a loser.'"
I ask the man in the desert robe if Tiger the businessman is more sociable than Tiger the golfer.
He nods and says, "I sit with him, we eat together, he's very friendly. Maybe a lot of people think that he's...." The man hesitates. "It's not easy for Tiger. Everybody wants something--an autograph, a photograph, an interview, a business deal. His day starts when he comes out of his hotel room, and it doesn't end until he's back in his hotel room. Before people judge him, they need to put themselves in his position."
The man in the desert robe looks uncomfortable, so I change the subject to Al Ruwaya. His smile returns. The deal, he says, has been in the works for more than two years. He says the original site was Palm Jumeirah, a cluster of man-made islands in the Arabian Gulf sculpted to look like a palm tree from the air. He says Sheikh Mohammed vetoed that plan, arguing that it would be redundant to put one landmark--the first Tiger Woods course--on another landmark, the islands. Better that it be built at Dubailand, which will make Disney World look like a petting zoo.
I get nowhere, however, when I press for details about Tiger's contract with Tatweer, a subsidiary of Sheikh Mohammed's Dubai Holding. Will Tiger be paid up front, or will he collect a royalty on properties in Tiger Woods-- Dubai? What is Tiger's design fee for Al Ruwaya? Does the contract include Tiger's multimillion-dollar appearance fee for playing in the Dubai Desert Classic?
"Money is not a big issue for Tiger," says the man in the desert robe. "Nor for us."
"I hate sitting still," he says from across the table. "I hate being stale. I've always got to be moving. I've always got to be challenged."
He says this while sitting still, but I have no reason to doubt him. Tiger in a conference room is a cat in a cage. Tiger at a press conference is a schoolboy writing I will not talk in class a hundred times on the blackboard.
"Tiger, you're about to become a father for the first time," says the reporter in the third row. "Is that going to affect your preparation for the majors?"