Dad's day connects life's dots for Woods

June 17, 2007|By RICK MAESE

OAKMONT, Pa. — OAKMONT, Pa.-- --Earl Woods wasn't with his son at Pebble Beach in 2000. By then, Tiger Woods' father already had significantly scaled back his travel schedule.

"It's Father's Day, and I can't tell you enough about what my dad meant to my golf," Tiger Woods said on the day he won his first U.S. Open, after posting one of the most impressive performances anyone had ever seen in a major. "I can't thank him enough. ... And to have my dad still alive while I won this championship on Father's Day, it's very important to me."

Woods chases his third U.S. Open title this afternoon, and again Earl Woods won't be there. The stage is set for a memorable final round, but what's most striking is that just one year after the world's best golfer lost his father, here on Father's Day, we're not trotting out sob stories and delivering emotional dedications.

The day stands for the same thing it ever has, but for Woods, the meaning is different. At some point in the next few weeks, Woods will be a father himself.

"It's a complete polar opposite of where I was last year at this time," Woods said last week, remembering how he approached the 2006 U.S. Open with such a heavy heart.

Woods is one of those rare athletes who help us chart time. His timeline is our timeline, and his experiences - at least, those that don't involve a golf club - mirror many of our own.

So we remember watching him grow up, and we appreciated the love he had for his parents, and we remember when he got married, and we felt his pain when his father died. It's these events that make one of America's most recognizable, iconic figures seem somewhat mortal to us.

And right now, as we follow Woods and his quest for another U.S. Open title, we know in the backs of our minds that again Woods is dipping his toe in this pool of shared experiences. Forget the 18th green; Woods is approaching something bigger - that same rite of passage that, frankly, doesn't seem to care whether you can fly the bunker, chip to within 10 feet, read the break and sink a birdie putt.

There's a point in a man's life when Father's Day is no longer about your own dad; it's about you. It's about a son becoming a father.

"This is far more important than any game of golf," Woods said of the baby he and his wife, Elin, are expecting next month.

As idyllic as it might have seemed a year ago for Woods to win the U.S. Open - six weeks after his father's death - that's not really how life works. We don't expect, or even necessarily welcome, the warmth of success and joy interrupting our grieving.

"I know Dad would still want me to go out there and grind it and give it my best," Woods said before last year's tournament, "and that's what I always do."

Woods missed the cut last year for the first time at a major.

This year is different - "a complete 180," he said - and the final round of the Open today begins with the air of a celebration. From early in his round yesterday, there was an inevitable certainty that seemed to surround the leader board. Though Woods began the day five strokes behind the leader, he put together one of his best rounds in a long time, posting a 1-under 69 and finishing the day alone in second place.

He enters play today two strokes behind 26-year-old Australian Aaron Baddeley, and the two will compete as today's final-round pairing.

Yesterday after that magnificent round, Woods made a beeline to the driving range. When he pulled out his 3-wood, caddie Steve Williams tossed him a ball.

Ping!

The tiny orb shrank into a distant dot on the horizon, clearing the 40-foot netting about 280 yards away and finding a trailer parked on the other side.

Clang!

The gallery laughed and applauded, and Woods cracked a smile and offered a wave.

Dozens of fans gawked as Woods took some mighty hacks. He was a celebrity with whom they were on a first-name basis, a megastar everyone felt they knew, that they could relate to.

And on some levels - the ones that don't include the bank accounts and yachts and mansions - that's exactly what Woods is, someone with inhuman talents capable of human experiences. Both the highs and the lows.

For Woods, this child star we've watched grow into a man, if last year's Father's Day was all about loss, this year's couldn't be more different.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Rick Maese -- Points after

Media rules: So the NCAA is banning bloggers from baseball press boxes? We'd better hope the Orioles don't get creative and try to follow suit. We'd find Roch Kubatko on the freeway with a "Will blog for food" sign, and we'd have to pry Peter Schmuck away from the ice cream cart and teach him how to use a computer.

Update, please: I've been out of town; please tell me I haven't missed anything down at Oriole Park. Last thing I remember was a nice little five-game winning streak.

What not to wear: Ian Poulter learned one way to get the hometown crowd on your side - accidentally wear the colors of the local NFL team. The English golfer played yesterday's third round of the U.S. Open in Oakmont, Pa., wearing yellow pants, a black shirt and a yellow sun visor. The outfit inspired a day's worth of an annoying chant: "Here we go, Steelers! Here we go!"

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