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Tiger!

Just about any story on Tiger Woods will involve Earl. He died little more than a year ago. Yet Earl Woods still lingers about the room like a comfortable, knowing breeze, inspiring stories, laughter, and smiles. It’s a cool May afternoon in Orlando, and two old acquaintances are discussing those things that shape us into men. Our parents. Our children. Our choices. If we’re fortunate, those choices are guided by the people who raised us, who created the boundaries that shape our behavior and provided the light we follow while pursuing our own goals.

“It’s amazing,” Woods says. “The older I get, the smarter Dad’s gotten. It’s amazing the amount of knowledge I’ve gotten from both of my parents that I use on a daily basis. It’s uncanny how it works out that way.”

Tiger Woods is now a man, as difficult as that may be to grasp. We’ve known him practically all his life—from the grainy footage of his appearance on The Mike Douglas Show through his domination of amateur golf, and during his now-inevitable quest to win more major championships than anyone in the sport’s history. But losing a father changes a young man. In time, after the grieving, he grows. In that way Woods is no different from the rest of us. He’ll be 32 years old before the end of the year, and by midsummer, he’ll become a father. Elin, his wife, is due in July.

Dismissing golf (for now), Tiger Woods can still be considered one of the best athletes on the planet. He’s already the richest, and he just may have the highest business IQ of anyone who’s ever played professional sports. We once wanted to Be Like Mike. Now Mike—Michael Jordan, of course—seeks counsel from Tiger, his BFF. And we all want to Be Like Tiger. We want to swing like Tiger, by any definition of the word. He is the sports icon of our
age.

It sort of crept up on us—this transformation from precocious phenom to champion to man. We grew used to his sweet swing and his make-you-wanna-smack-yourself power, and certainly we grew used to his winning. With 12 major titles, Woods is just six short of Jack Nicklaus’ record, and only the most delusional still doubt he’ll ultimately own the mark. In a sport that used to laud “top-10 finishes,” Woods made winning matter. Who even brags about top-10 finishes anymore? Win or take your balls and go home.

Over the 11 years since he arrived on the PGA Tour—a tall, slim whippet who swung the golf club so violently your own discs slipped—Woods had won a total of 57 tournaments at the time we chatted, fifth on the all-time list and 25 behind the legendary Sam Snead. Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, tied with 31 wins each, were the next current Tour players on the list.

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