The Caddie Pastor

Monday May 14th, 2007

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., May 13 — Early in the afternoon, on the final day of the tournament, Tiger Woods came to the 13th tee at The Players Championship, along with his playing partner, Davis Love III. A large black man in funky gold-framed glasses and a bright-white NBC baseball cap ambled over to them. He knew them and the golfers knew him. The two caddies, Steve Williams and Cubbie Burke, knew the man, too. He's known on Tour as T-O-W, The Other Woods. At one point on Sunday, Tiger Woods was on the 13th tee — and so was George Woods.

At The Players, George Woods was working as a spotter for NBC, relaying the clubs the players were using back to a producer. He's averaged 30 events a year for the past four years, although he hasn't been out much this year. When the Tour's in your system, you do what you can to stay out there.

On the Sundays before tournaments, he sometimes cleans the outsides of the big trailers of the equipment manufacturers, using a powerful water gun he travels with. On Sunday nights after tournaments, he sometimes helps load a trailer that transports player baggage to the next Tour stop. For a while last year, he drove Love's massive mobile-home trailer across the Tour landscape. Now he's doing the same for Chris Couch. A few years ago, when Craig Perks's caddie was arrested, George Woods stepped in as a pinch-hit caddie.

But his main thing is his work as the unofficial pastor to the Tour caddies. "You can't get caddies to Bible study, so I bring it to them," Woods said between groups, sitting on a large ice chest positioned underneath a tree. Sometimes, he'd get a drink out for the players. He said to one, "You want the red or the green?"

He publishes a paper for the caddies called The Good News Journal. The circulation isn't going to attract the attention of Rupert Murdoch anytime soon, though Andrew Martinez, Tom Lehman's caddie, is a devoted reader.

Money's been tight this year, which is why Woods hasn't been out much. At home, in St. Louis, he's trying to start a real-estate business. The caddie ministry, though, is his main thing. He was ordained as a minister through a Baptist church in St. Louis.

On Friday night, he was at a Bible study/cookout at Fred Funk's house in Ponte Vedra Beach, along with Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink and John Rollins and various other players. The Tour pastor, Larry Moody, was there. Moody's been traveling the Tour for years, but he gets a lot of help. His parishioners are playing for funny money.

Vijay Singh was making his way to 13. Somebody asked George Woods, "Vijay make it to Funk's house?" Singh lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, too.

"Vijay?" Woods asked in mock amazement. Vijay's not the Bible-study type. "Never!"

The first time George Woods met Tiger Woods, he walked up to him and said, "I'm the other Woods." He put out his hand. "George Woods."

Tiger said, "I've seen you around. I know who you are."

George Woods said of Tiger Woods, "The man has never done a day of work in his life. Hands as soft as a baby's bottom."

The Tour once had all sorts of characters like George Woods, scraping by and living on the fringes. Now they are as rare as the velvet Chivas Regal bags players used to use to hold their wedding rings and Rolex watches while playing.

Tom Lehman's been helpful to George Woods and his caddie ministry.

"George is not waiting for manna to fall from the sky," Lehman said.

It's a lovefest, with those two. "Big-hearted guy," Woods said. "Kind of guy who would save the world, if he could."

George Woods isn't trying to save himself anymore. Still, on Sunday, he was feeling a little tight. "Couple thousand dollars wouldn't hurt me right now." He checked his Palm Pilot.

Anyway, he said, his main thing's not money. It's caddie salvation. "You got to go to them," the Rev. Woods said, repeating his caddie salvation mantra, "because they're not going to come to you."

At the Players, he was waiting for them on the 13th tee.

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