Monday, April 11

TIGER WOODS -- A REFRESHING KIND OF PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE

Tiger Woods, who yesterday won his 4th Masters and 9th "major" golf title -- the youngest in professional golf history ever to do so -- and overcame countless critics in and out of the game who said his flame had burned out and marriage and a new golf swing would be his undoing, showcased in victory why he is a special athlete and one for the ages.

In a post-victory interview in the famous Butler Cabin at the beautiful-beyond-belief Augusta National Golf Course, Tiger dedicated his victory to his father, Earl Woods, who has been in sharply declining health.

Unable to be at the tournament itself, Earl Woods nonetheless made the trip to Augusta, Georgia, for the Masters Tournament and watched it on television from a nearby home. That's the kind of father Earl is -- ever faithful to and ever an inspiration for his son. The kind of son Tiger is was there for the millions of television viewers to see, as he choked back tears in accepting his 4th "Green Jacket" and in responding to questions from CBS' Jim Nantz.

"This win wasn't for me," Woods said. "This was for my dad, who hasn't been feeling well. He's struggling. He made the trek to Augusta but was unable to come out here and enjoy this, because he's . . . he's hanging in there.

"This is . . . " Woods went on, his eyes tearing up and voice choking, "this is for dad. Every year I've been lucky enough to win here, my dad has been there at the end to give me a big hug . . . and he wasn't there today. I can't wait to get home and give him a big bear hug."


How nice to see one of the world's most successful athletes conduct himself with such dignity and reverence for his parents (he hugged his mother coming off the 18th green, where he secured his victory on the first play-off hole with a stunning Birdie 3). Unlike so many of today's athletes, no controversy follows Tiger, no taint attaches to his records. He's clean-cut and as fresh looking as a newly-minted All-American. He's not festooned with tatooes or body-piercings, and you can see the tops of his ears. His syntax isn't garbled; his eyes aren't glazed. He sounds college-educated and he is (Stanford University). He has a foundation for children and he doesn't suffer from the notion of being a role model, as so many modern athletes do. The game of golf and Tiger's parents have taught him manners and a precious commodity in short supply these days in the world of sports -- respect.

Tiger didn't mock-moon the gallery gathered around the 18th green yesterday afternoon after draining that pressure-packed 15-foot putt for Birdie. NFL wide receivers do that sort of thing now, not PGA golfers. Tiger hasn't appeared before a Congressional committee investigating steroid abuse. Major League baseball players do that sort of thing now, not PGA golfers. Tiger didn't feel compelled to charge the grandstands behind the 17th green after scoring the first of two disappointing Bogeys on the final two holes of the tournament, thereby forcing a play-off with Chris DiMarco. NBA basketball players do that sort of thing now, not PGA golfers. And, and I promise you this, Tiger won't ever have to return a Masters' trophy, or a US Open trophy, or a PGA Championship trophy, or the British Open's Claret Jug, because of a cheating scandal. Track and field athletes -- even Olympic medal winners -- regularly do that sort of thing now, not PGA golfers. And, to be sure, Tiger chose to fend off the gritty Chris DiMarco with a magical chip-in on the 16th and a stone-cold Birdie putt in the play-off, not through tasteless posturing and fisticuffs. NHL players do that sort of thing now, not PGA golfers.

Tiger Woods is a welcome breath of fresh air in the increasingly sordid world of professional sports; and in a world in which, to my dismay, decorum, respect, and honor appear at risk of becoming endangered virtues.

Congratulations, Tiger! And congratulations, Kultida and Earl Woods, on a job well done!