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Woods' heart still across the country

The world No. 1 joins the Players Championship after visiting his ailing dad.

By BOB HARIG
Published March 24, 2006


PONTE VEDRA BEACH - The day turned out dreary, matching the mood of Tiger Woods. The world's No. 1 golfer did his best to put the distractions aside and at times showed flashes of brilliance Thursday during the first round of the Players Championship.

But it would be difficult to expect much more than the par 72 he shot at the TPC-Sawgrass Stadium course. His ailing father was on his mind, and a two-day cross-country journey on the eve of the tournament was a lot to overcome.

"The situation for our family is obviously not easy," Woods said shortly after completing his round. "But, hey, it's just one of those things you have to deal with. Everyone has to deal with that at some point in their life, and unfortunately right now it's our time."

Earl Woods, 74, who molded Tiger into a golfer almost from the time he could walk, has been battling cancer and other ailments for the past several years. He had a heart attack in 1996 and was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998.

Although Woods did not offer many specifics, the situation became serious enough Tuesday that he was compelled to return to Cypress, Calif., to visit his father at home.

"Dad wasn't feeling well, and it's just the same stuff; just tried to go out there and hopefully make his spirits feel a little bit better," Woods said. "He's a very stubborn man, which is good. He's fighting as hard as he can. It was good to see. At least he's trying to hang in there, which is a very positive sign."

Asked about his father's reaction to the visit, Woods said: "He was happy. He said, "What the hell are you doing here?' It was nice to hear that."

Woods admitted he was on the verge of withdrawing and said future tournaments, including the Masters in two weeks, could depend on his father's health.

His round included five birdies and five bogeys on a day when Davis Love and Jim Furyk shared the lead with 7-under 65. Robert Allenby, Bernhard Langer and Miguel Angel Jimenez were two back. Defending champion Fred Funk shot 72.

Playing with Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke helped, Woods said. Clarke's wife Heather has cancer. They discussed their situations throughout the round, Woods said. "My golf is really not at the top of my list," Clarke said last week at the Bay Hill Invitational, where he finished third.

"It puts things in perspective real quick," Woods said. "You hit a bad shot and you want to get upset with yourself because you know you can hit better shots. But you know what, in the whole scheme of things, it's just a golf shot."

Woods would not use the travel as an excuse, despite returning late Wednesday night. He was at the course by 11 a.m. Thursday for his 12:30 p.m. tee time.

He described his play as sporadic. He hit just seven of 14 fairways but managed to hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation. He needed 30 putts.

"You have plenty of time to focus out there," he said. "It's not one of those things where you're pressured and you have to hit a golf shot. You have plenty of time to focus and clear the thoughts and try and execute the shot properly, and I tried to do that. Unfortunately, my mechanics were not very good. Positive sign is I hit the ball better coming in, hit some nice shots and finally putted well the last few holes, which is nice."

Woods said he elected to play to serve as encouragement for his dad.

"Having something to look forward to every day," he said. "Hopefully I'll get on TV and hit some good golf shots, and he can watch it and give him something to look forward to every day. That's always a positive thing."