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Paging Tiger

His book about the 1997 Masters reminds us that Tiger Woods has a lot to offer—but that we wish he would give us more
Author:

PHIL KNIGHT—Nike co-founder, master marketer and Tiger Woods sponsor—calls the 1997 Masters "golf's Jackie Robinson moment." Knight was there then, hanging with the protagonist, and he is mentioned three times in Woods's new book, The 1997 Masters: My Story.

If you are old enough, you remember it too. Twenty years later the just-the-facts summation of the week makes your heart race: Woods, competing in his first major as a pro, a 21-year-old former Stanford student with a black father and a Thai mother playing on golf's most spectacular stage, at a club that had been anything but racially progressive, won the tournament by ... 12.

And breathe.

I was there—the greatest golf event I have ever attended—and now, two decades later, I had Tiger's new book in my hands, hopeful he would rise to the occasion.

Then I got to page 7, where Woods writes about Arnold Palmer and Palmer's Bay Hill tournament, which the author has won eight times, with Arnold there to greet him after the 72nd hole every time.

Woods writes, "I was sad when he died on Sept. 25, 2016, and I thought of all those times behind the eighteenth green. Arnold meant so much to the game, and I'll never forget our friendship and his counsel to me over the years. Looking back, I know he fired me up the week before the [1997] Masters."

Alarms started ringing. These are sentences that should not be published in a book for sentient adults. The editor should have noted in the margin of the author's manuscript, How, how, how, how? Show, show, show, show! Arnold, who half-invented the tournament that defines the book, is dead. You, Tiger, have logged many hours with him, and now you're giving the man some credit for your most important victory. You cannot go too deep on this.

Instead he gives us one shaggy paragraph. I wish I could tell you that this was an isolated incident.

Still, there are many worthwhile don't-blink moments in this 230-page book. Woods, working with the thoughtful and accomplished golf writer Lorne Rubenstein, writes beautifully about his relationship with his parents, but in passing. He compares his approach to golf to improvisational jazz. (His father was a jazz buff.) There's a wonderful scene in which Tiger talks grip pressure with Byron Nelson at an Augusta National dinner. Nelson tells Tiger, "Keep doing what you're doing." It's wonderful to see Woods off the course, talking to the Augusta chairman about his pairing. His thorough dissection of what has happened to Augusta National's course, in the face of the modern golfer and bigger-faster-stronger equipment, is incisive and intelligent.

There are passages that stop you cold with their honesty. He offers a nod to his marriage that ended in divorce, the pain he wrought, his regrets. He explains that his daughter is named Sam, for his father's nickname for him, and that his son, Charlie, was named for Charlie Sifford, the pioneering black golfer who won twice on Tour but who never played in the Masters. What a tribute.

But such moments go by too fast. It was not until 1975 that a black golfer played in the Masters. It was not until '90 that a black man joined Augusta National. That's why Knight invokes Jack Roosevelt Robinson when talking about the '97 Masters. The event is important because of Woods's extraordinary background, because of who he is, because of how we perceive him. Then, he was a mixed-race kid playing spectacular golf, and we all tuned in. But now he is an author, a middle-aged man with two children and eroding golf skills. He's knocking on our door, book in hand. His job is to take us deep. Maybe Andre Agassi set the bar too high with Open. What Tiger's book lacks is introspection.

This will sound condescending, but it is not meant that way: The ideal audience for this book is middle-schoolers, young people interested in learning about the sacrifice it takes to become excellent at a difficult task, readers who do not already know Tiger's story from the 1997 Masters.

The book does not open with a dedication. But, in a sense, the dedication is obvious. Here is the first paragraph of the acknowledgments at the end of the book: "Thanks to Mom and Pop for showing me what's important and for standing by me, whatever was going on in my life. My kids, Sam and Charlie, continue to teach me how to be the best dad I can be, and the best person I can be, day in and day out." Beautiful.

Sam is nine and Charlie is eight. This book will surely be in their big house in South Florida, waiting for them to come of age. It's a start.

He's a middle-aged man with eroding golf skills. He's knocking on our door, book in hand. His job is to take us deep.

GO FIGURE

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Premier League wins in history for Manchester United, which beat Middlesbrough 3--1 on Sunday to become the first side to reach that milestone. Arsenal is second, with 517 victories.

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Point margin of victory for Baylor over Texas Southern in the first round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament, the biggest in tournament history. The Bears, the No. 1 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional, rolled to a 119--30 win over the 16th-seeded Tigers.

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Hits allowed by the Yankees in a 3--0 exhibition game win against the Tigers last Friday, New York's first nine-inning spring training no-hitter in 34 years and the first in the majors since 2015.

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