small last week, like he hadn't been in the gym in a while. Normally, he
strides fairways as if he owns them, but at the U.S. Open he looked like a
visitor. His shirts were loose, and the great oaks of Winged Foot dwarfed him.
He played two rounds of 76, and how many times did you hear him swear? Not even
twice. There were few fist pumps and little chitchat with Steve Williams. The
New York fans were standing and whooping for him: Welcome back, Tiga! It was
his first tournament since the Masters and the first tournament since the death
of his father, Earl, at age 74 on May 3. But Tiger Woods is not Arnold Palmer.
His fire doesn't come from outside the ropes but from deep inside, from the
seeds Earl planted there.
The U.S. Open was
the first tournament of the rest of Tiger's life. Tiger had played 37 majors as
a professional, Earl always watching. He won 10 of them and had never missed a
cut. Earl's youthful instruction to Tiger was to "let the legend grow,"
and the son was dutiful. He won at Augusta as a boy golfer, and again in 2005
as a married man, playing for his ailing father, holing a you-have-to-be-joking
pitch shot down the stretch. That was not the Tiger we saw last week, when he
began his Thursday round with three straight bogeys and who finished his Friday
round bogey-bogey to miss the cut by three. It was another golfer, one who did
Tiger still has
his mother--and he still has Jack. Nicklaus's list of professional majors won,
18 titles long, has always been Tiger's ultimate goal. With Earl gone, that
list becomes more important than ever.
Nicklaus had with
his father what Tiger had with Earl. When Charlie Nicklaus died in February
1970, at age 56, Nicklaus was 30, the same age Tiger is now. When his father
was on his deathbed, Jack was racked with guilt. In 1968 and '69 and in the
early events in '70, by his own admission, Nicklaus was getting by on talent
alone. His father had given him so much, and what was the son doing with it?
Eating oysters, playing tennis, taking his kids on ski trips. Charlie Nicklaus
died, and Jack won four of the next 10 majors.
Tiger's in a
different place. Earl never saw Tiger take a slide, maybe because Tiger doesn't
have a wood-paneled station wagon filled with kids, as Nicklaus did. Tiger and
Elin are newlyweds, really. They're building a homestead downbeach from Jack
and Barbara. You can imagine Tiger as an outstanding father, but that might sap
his fire. (Jack was a father his whole career.) Tiger already wants to play
infrequently and always at the highest level, as Bobby Jones did. A tall order.
What will drive him? Wealth is not an issue, and his legend would be intact
even if he retired today. His father--his first golf partner and his best
Tiger's 30s will
be nothing like his 20s, nor should they be. Jack's long list is a great and
honorable and inspiring thing, but Tiger has probably figured out something:
It's only a piece of paper.
Last week Tiger
was asked to boil down his father's special gift.
He can't play for
his father's hugs anymore. The void will be vast.
Day, damn Hallmark holiday.