Did you hear it? The golf world emitted a strange noise last
week. It rumbled in the gathering horde following John Daly down
the fairway. It clicked in the endless collisions of Vijay
Singh's club and practice-range balls. It echoed in the relieved
sigh of Jack Nicklaus, holder of the record for most majors won.
It sounded like this: "I have a balance in my life. You start
realizing that golf is not the end of all things. It is what we
do, but it does not define you."
Who was it curling up into the "there's-more-to-life-than-this"
crouch usually reserved for losers? Phil Mickelson? Colin
Montgomerie? No, it was Tiger Woods, the same person who, at
five, said on national TV, "When I get big I'm going to beat Jack
Nicklaus." The teen who dominated amateur golf. The player who
barged onto the Tour in 1996 with such single-minded
determination that he chose not to befriend other Tour players
and practiced, worked out and played like no one before.
That approach catapulted him to immediate wealth and victory, and
then to his amazing 2000, a season he so dominated with his skill
and drive that it seemed only time stood between him and
Nicklaus's record of 18 majors. But with the exception of an
occasional press-conference one-liner, Tiger seemed not so much a
person but a drone, a golf machine molded by his Green Beret
Then it happened. On Nov. 25, Woods became engaged to Elin
Nordegren, and last week he canceled his appearance at the May
20-23 Deutsche Bank SAP-Open, which he has won three times, for
personal reasons, setting off speculation that wedding bells
would ring that week. "By having a balance in your life, it makes
things much more harmonic," said Woods. "I have great people
around me, Elin is fantastic for me. I have great friends and
hobbies that I love to do to get away." Harmonic? Hobbies? Oh,
It hasn't helped that Tiger's game has not looked so sharp as
he's gone winless in majors since the 2002 U.S. Open. He has
regained his stature off the tee, climbing to second in driving
distance (304.7 yards) after falling to 11th last year, but he's
missing fairways on both sides, which isn't good. And despite
five wins last year, he also put up a string of his worst pro
finishes, including a 26th at the Tour Championship, a 39th at
the PGA and a 20th at the U.S. Open.
"A wife can sometimes be a deterrent to a good game of golf,"
Earl Woods once prophesied. Of course, Pops is not the only seer
Tiger has failed to heed of late. Earlier this year he officially
cut ties with swing coach Butch Harmon. Tiger, who won 31
tournaments and eight majors in 6 1/2 years with Butch, has won
seven events and no majors since unofficially splitting with
Harmon in mid-2002.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Tour has closed the gap on Tiger
through improved fitness, better technology and a Woodsian
devotion to practice that's best exemplified by the unyielding
Singh. Tiger claims he's as dedicated to winning as ever, and as
he often does when challenged, he'll probably win soon--most
likely at Bay Hill in three weeks--but even if he does, something
at the core of the golf landscape has shifted. Number 1 has
forsaken his monomania for winning in favor of family, friends
Tiger has gotten a life, and that sounds O.K.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (WOODS) NEW MAN Tiger's big day could come as soon as May.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL/ICON SMI (NELSON)
COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN FERREY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (ZOELLER)
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGES (PARNEVIK)
COLOR PHOTO: STUART FRANKLIN/GETTY IMAGES (NICKLAUS)
Some players hate the Match Play because they could be gone after
only a day, but most fans love it because of the great showdowns
and the welcome break from stroke play.
Up & Down
Byron Nelson Championship
Looks like Tiger will keep his promise to play Lord Byron's
event after skipping it last year.
Had a putt for a 59 and a playoff at the Outback Steakhouse
Pro-Am, but three-jacked for a 61.
Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am
Got a lot of good press for standing up to Jack's demand to play
with his son.
Deutsche Bank SAP-Open
Personal reasons will keep Tiger from the Rhineland for the first
time since 1999.
The cool Swede's hot 2004 start ended when he shot his fashion
IQ--83--on Saturday at Riviera.
Looked petty for blowing off the Outback when the event wouldn't
bend the rules for him.