These should be
the best of times for Tiger Woods. He remains happily married to a Swedish
bikini model. Golf Digest recently ran the numbers and projected that by 2010
Woods will be the first athlete to earn a billion dollars, and he is certainly
enjoying his money. He just closed escrow on a $38 million estate on a finger
of land on Jupiter Island, Fla., that is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the
Intracoastal Waterway, the latter being the perfect place to park his $22
million yacht, Privacy.
But Woods is
about more than just conspicuous consumption. On Feb. 10 he will preside over
the grand opening of the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, a
35,000-square-foot complex designed to prepare youths for careers in math,
science, technology and language arts. (For study breaks there will be a
10-acre driving range and putting course.) Woods describes the completion of
the $25 million project as "monumental," adding, "With this
building and hopefully subsequent buildings down the road, I think we can
really make a tremendous impact on kids' lives and futures."
He still plays a
little golf, too. At last week's Buick Invitational, Woods kicked off his 10th
season as a pro with his 47th PGA Tour victory. The performance was all the
more noteworthy because it followed the longest break of his career: six weeks
between events, including a 24-day stretch during which he didn't touch a club.
But in victory Woods was strangely subdued, and not because he was handed the
win when his friend Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal whiffed a four-foot putt on the second
playoff hole at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif. Having recently turned 30,
Woods is now facing one of life's most sobering realities, the mortality of
Earl Woods has
long been his son's guiding force on and off the golf course. When Tiger was a
peewee prodigy, his father famously jangled the change in his pocket and flung
tees at his son in mid-swing, the better to instill mental toughness. It was
Earl's dream that Tiger make a contribution to society beyond winning
tournaments, and as chairman of the Tiger Woods Foundation, Earl has been
actively involved in the creation of the Learning Center. But now the former
Green Beret is fighting for his life, due to a relapse of prostate cancer that
was first diagnosed in 1998. It was thought to have been eradicated by
radiation therapy, but in 2004 Earl revealed that the cancer had returned and
spread throughout his body, causing lesions on his back and a tumor behind his
left eye. "My eye was literally pushed out of the socket," Earl told
the Boston Herald in September 2004. "The pain was so bad, it was past
being a headache. There's no such thing as a headache like that."
therapy followed, and last spring Earl was given a clean bill of health, though
Tiger--a noted exercise freak--was not impressed by his father's lifestyle.
"He doesn't exactly take care of himself," he said last May. "He's
still puffing away, and that's just the way it is. He's been real stubborn
about everything. It's got him this far, so we'll just kind of leave him
returned near the end of 2005, and soon Earl's condition became
grave--"touch and go," according to an intimate of Tiger's. The 24 days
in which Woods did not touch a club were spent by Earl's side. "He's my
dad, and I love him to death," Tiger said. "He's my best friend, and
anytime [I] can spend that much time [with him], especially when he wasn't
feeling all that well, it meant the world to me."
At the Buick,
Woods honored his father the best way he knows how, with superb golf. It wasn't
the first time that's happened. After shooting a 63 at last year's Ford
Championship, Woods said he was merely granting "a birthday wish" to
his old man, who had turned 73 that day. A month later Tiger dedicated his
Masters victory to Earl in a tearful green jacket ceremony. It was a rare
outpouring of emotion, and last week Woods kept his feelings mostly out of
view, his grim resolve on the golf course matched by a stoic pressroom demeanor
with which he tersely deflected questions about Earl. With a nod to Earl's old
mind games, Tiger's friend Charles Howell observed the obvious last week,
saying, "He's good at blocking things out."
Yet Woods's Buick
victory owed more than a little to his willingness to let his father in. When
it comes to golf they share an almost mystical connection. Earl is confined to
his home in Cypress, Calif., the same modest dwelling, tucked into a
middle-class neighborhood, in which Tiger was raised. When facing a crucial
putt in his playoff against Olaz�bal, Tiger later said he could picture Earl
"sitting on the couch saying, 'Just lag it up there.'" To that point
Woods had been suffering through a disastrous putting round on Torrey's bumpy
greens, but with a deft lag he secured the par that won the tournament. No
doubt Earl was pleased.
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