It's Not Just Talent Making Golfer Tiger Woods a Star

Article excerpt

Tiger Woods lost a gold chain and a watch during a robbery last fall. America's most renowned amateur golfer had a knife held to his throat, was struck in the face and knocked to the ground in a Stanford University parking lot.

Woods didn't lose his sense of humor, though.

"I talked to him at 2 a.m. the night after the incident," said Earl D. Woods, Tiger's father. "He said, `Pops, you know that overbite I had? It's gone. My teeth are perfectly aligned.' "

Just like Tiger's life, which has always had a certain symmetry: golf prodigy on one hand, gifted student on the other; a celebrity in the public's eye, just one of the guys to his buddies.

The 19-year-old has followed an almost primrose cart path, playing his first round of golf in Pampers, racking up so many trophies and awards that his parents turned the living room of their Cypress, Calif., home into a Tiger shrine, and capturing amateur golf's most prestigious prize, the U.S. Amateur, in August.

And now this bump in the road.

It wasn't the first: Woods received a death threat before playing in the 1992 Los Angeles Open.

But his father is concerned that it might not be the last. "Let's face it. A lot of major black athletes have had threats. It just goes with the territory," he said. "I just hope this doesn't trigger ideas in other minds around the world."

His son, a Stanford freshman who is a willowy 6-foot-1, 150 pounds, dismissed the robbery as an isolated incident. "People get mugged every day," he said in a school-issued release. "I just want to move on from this and bury it in the past."

Eldrick "Tiger" Woods has always been in the spotlight. He made his first television appearance at 2, was featured in Sports Illustrated at 15 and attracted huge galleries when he was invited as a 16-year-old to the 1992 L.A. Open.

But last August, Woods, who turned 19 in December, became a golfing icon. Staging a furious rally on the last day of the U.S. Amateur, he made up a six-shot deficit in the 36-hole final to beat Trip Kuehne of McKinney, Texas.

"The Tonight Show," "The Late Show With David Letterman," ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN and CNN all called after the Amateur. Woods turned them all down.

The media crush continued at Stanford, where Steve Raczynski, the assistant sports information director, said he received 75 media requests during a two-week stretch of September.

The only way Woods, who won two of his first four college tournaments last fall, thought he could juggle golf, school and the media was to hold monthly news conferences, virtually eliminating one-on-one interviews.

Yes, he's that huge.

And he seems to be tiring of all the attention, sometimes referring to reporters as "you guys," the way Michael Jordan does.

But Woods is a polished speaker who knows to keep his cool and how to entertain reporters while avoiding controversy.

"I'm always myself," Woods said. "Always tell the truth. Always be who you are. You have to be discreet sometimes - you can't just blurt out what you want to say - but you can phrase things so they come out the right way."

The folks at the nation's top sports management firms are drooling over Woods, and not just because he's a rarity in the sport.

"If he was white, yellow or orange it wouldn't matter - the fact he's black is incidental," said Hughes Norton, senior vice president of the Cleveland-based International Management Group. "He's everything you could want. He's a very genuine kid, he's good looking, long off the tee. ... You add it all up, and it's not fair."

If Woods is as good as many expect him to be, maybe they'll name a golf course after him someday. Can't you picture it? Eighteen holes, highlighted by long, tree-lined fairways and lush landscaping. ...

Welcome to Tiger Woods.

First Hole

Earl Woods couldn't believe it. …