"I am, by nature, a control freak," Tiger says with a smile.
The smile is sheepish. It says, I get teased about this all the time. Tiger sits on one side of a conference table. I sit on the other. A Nike Golf executive, a longtime acquaintance of mine, stands by the door. She checks her watch every minute or so to make sure I don't take more than my allotted 10 minutes. Outside, on the tarmac, a Gulfstream 5 waits with its stairs lowered. It is parked not far from a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, beyond which the L.A. traffic whooshes by in hazy sunshine. So when Tiger confesses that he is a control freak, I have to fight the impulse to snort derisively. You think?
I've opened with a few seconds of small talk. I've told Tiger how much I enjoyed playing with him the previous week in the pro-am of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. ("Cool," he says, his expression giving no indication that he remembers.) We then get down to business. Or rather, we talk about business. For 9 1/2 minutes. When my time is up, I reach across the table and shake Tiger's hand. Nodding to my friend, I walk out of the room, down the hallway, out the front door of the terminal, across the tarmac and up the stairs of the G5. What? You thought the plane was Tiger's?
Think of me as an auditor. My assignment: Tiger Woods 2006. I have the ledgers right here, and the numbers are great. He won eight PGA Tour events last year, including the British Open and the PGA Championship. He topped the money list for the seventh time and was voted the Tour's Player of the Year for the eighth time. He beat Ernie Els in a playoff at the Dubai Desert Classic. He won his last six PGA Tour events and then mopped up the season with unofficial wins at the Grand Slam of Golf and his own Target World Challenge.
But there are some anomalies. A 22nd at the Players Championship, won by Stephen Ames. Thirty-three putts and no final-round kick in a third-place finish at the Masters, won by Phil Mickelson. A missed cutTiger's first in a major as a professionalat the U.S. Open, won by Geoff Ogilvy. I explain these in a footnote: "Earl Woods dies of cancer, May 3."
It's not my job as auditor to coax a tear out of you with the details. You saw the lost look in Tiger's eyes when he rejoined the Tour for the Open at Winged Foot. You saw Tiger sobbing on the 18th green after his victory at Royal Liverpool. I'll simply remind you that golf's greatest player, in the months since his father's death, has taken direct control of his nonprofit, started a business, begun construction on a house, negotiated sponsorship of his own PGA Tour event and conceived an heir, whose birth is expected in July. I submit the words of the Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa: We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.
When I first met Tiger, he had nothing. No bankable assets, anyway. . . . His bedroom was full of schoolbooks, posters and the usual detritus of Southern California teen life. He had just gotten a puppy, but it wasn't one of those pricey pedigree pooches. It was a mutt. When a friend of mine played a friendly round with the 14-year-old phenom, Tiger suggested that they play for a stick of ABC gum.
"What's ABC gum?" my friend asked. The kid grinned. "Already Been Chewed."