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Hold That, Tiger

As a boy, Jack Nicklaus was playing golf with his father one day
when he hit a terrible shot and, in a fit of pique, hurled his
club down the fairway. In a flash, Charlie Nicklaus told his son
that if he ever did that again, it would be the last round of
golf he would play. Throughout his 45-year professional career,
Nicklaus has been a model of good sportsmanship.

When he was 19, Bobby Jones tore up his scorecard and stalked
off the course in the middle of the 1921 British Open because he
was playing so badly. He would later write that his blowup was a
major embarrassment, the one regret of his career.

These are incidents for Tiger Woods to ponder. Never in the
history of the game has one man, let alone a young one, been so
carefully watched. In his first year as a pro we have witnessed
a golf bag full of Tiger heroics: His titanic three-wood to
reach the 18th green at Pebble Beach; his hole in one at the
Phoenix Open as the gallery went berserk; his triumphant march
to victory at the Masters followed by that heartwarming embrace
with his father. In television ads he has said how lucky he is
to be a golfer, to have "breathed Pebble, heard Augusta and felt
Carnoustie." Kids everywhere are saying, "I am Tiger Woods."

Which is why it was unsettling to see Woods at the Mercedes slam
his putter to the ground after taking a bogey last Saturday.
After his approach shot at 18 on Sunday flew the green, he
dropped his club, kicked it, picked it up, slammed it to the
ground again, then whipped off his cap and let loose with a
string of expletives, all before a national TV audience.
Everyone who has ever played the game knows how frustrating golf
can be. You and I, if we must, can afford to register that
frustration. No spectators are watching, and no one cares.

But much of the world is watching Woods. My 90-year-old mother
is one. An inveterate TV-golf addict, last year she ended her
love affair with Greg Norman to take up with Tiger, but the
other day she said, "I wish he wouldn't sulk so." At the other
end of the spectrum my three-year-old grandson swings his
plastic driver and repeats the mantra, "I am Tiger Woods."

For my part, having covered the sport as a journalist for more
than 30 years, I'm convinced that Woods is the best thing that
has happened to the game over that period of time. But I also
remember the influence the unfortunate on-court behavior of John
McEnroe and Jimmy Connors had on the tennis manners of the
nation's youth. Exciting as Woods's golf game is, it would be
tragic if his deportment led his young fans in that direction.

SI Special Contributor Walter Bingham has played golf for 57

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Woods needs to control his temper. [Tiger Woods throwing golf club]