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There's no stopping young man in motion

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 23, 2000


ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Tiger Woods clocked 150 mph in his white Porsche. "Had to feel the thrill," he said. Tiger's golf races at higher speeds, artistically and financially. In a sport where mid-30s is considered peak age, opportunities still golden beyond 50, the Woods talents rule the world at 24.

By plan, he restricts our view, delivering an abundance of sporting wizardry at the British Open and other championship venues, plus TV ads that multiply his fiscal millions, while being purposely shallow in personal information.

Guarded, understandably.

A man of color, in his teens Woods was receiving death threats. An overzealous, egomaniacal father caused complications. Woods never wavered in his devotion to Earl, a foresighted old Green Beret who molded a son for greatness. Tiger wrestled with lots of stuff, took some hits but learned.

So much is evolving.

Last month, he won the U.S. Open by 15 shots. Woods has a mighty chance to embrace the Claret Jug today, celebrating conquest at the British Open, his third major in 11 months, becoming history's fifth man with all Grand Slam trophies.

He is already golf's leading career money earner, headed for a St. Andrews check that will beef the Tiger take to $17-million. Pocket change compared with what Woods is making from Nike, Buick and other commercial associates. You can bank on this: He will become the first billion-dollar athlete.

Tiger keeps transcending.

Just maybe, he's even getting past some of the strains of race. After a masterpiece at Pebble Beach, there appeared to be no media references to Woods being the first black champion of the U.S. Open. Progress.

With many enormously famous people, from actors to politicians to athletes to royalty, there is a steep public thirst to know more about them. Woods works hard at guarding his privacy.

He mixes most comfortably with IMG rep Mark Steinberg, golf teacher Butch Harmon, caddie Steve Williams, college pals Jerry Chang and Notah Begay from Stanford and girlfriend Joanna Jagoda. Begay, a senior when Tiger was a freshman, is having his best PGA Tour year, with wins at Memphis and Cromwell, Conn.

Like all in the Tiger Circle, the tall and blond Jagoda shies from interviews and divulges almost no secrets. Williams is the same, having learned from Fluff Cowan's fate. The pudgy bloke with the Wilfred Brimley mustache made $300,000 as Woods bag-toter for a year, but Fluff adored his celebrity and blabbed constantly. It got him fired.

One star in this sky.

Chang, a scratch golfer, works with the Tiger Woods Foundation, charitable arm of the youthful icon's operation. A major arc in the circle. Just after Tiger won the U.S. Open, he showed up where Chang was attempting to qualify for the USGA Mid-Amateur. Woods caddied for his pal.

Jagoda is a law student at UCLA. She speaks five languages. If you're a factor in Tigerville, it is mandatory to be bright, well-rounded and disciplined. Keeping up with Woods demands considerable speed.

Tiger's parents split. Earl is too ill to travel. Tiger's mom, Tida, walks in his St. Andrews gallery. At 20, the gifted kid left home in California, relocating to Orlando, applying for adulthood.

Woods has a townhouse at Isleworth, a gated enclave where neighbors include Mark O'Meara, Ken Griffey Jr., Shaquille O'Neal and the Midas of jock agents, Mark McCormack, whose IMG conglomerate represents Tiger.

Tiger has a Porsche and a Ford SUV. No Buicks? So far, no trophy case in his lair. Fabulous, prestigious awards like Masters, PGA and U.S. Open silverware sit in boxes. They are coming so rapidly.

Whatever he attempts, Woods yearns to be expert. His latest passion is fly-fishing, with former Masters and British Open champ O'Meara an instructor. Last week, in Ireland, they played a little golf and did a lot of casting.

A skinny chap in his teens, Woods is now a solid 6 feet 1, 180 pounds. Devoted to workouts, he will discuss nothing done with weights, machines and routines. Tiger can be spotted running the streets of Isleworth, enhancing the lungs and strengthening legs.

Grab his arm and it's like steel. "Biceps almost like Schwarzenegger's," Nick Faldo said. Tiger isn't eager to show off. Golf Digest asked him to pose for a photographer without a shirt. No dice.

Mass curiosity is missing from the makeup of many athletes, some so self-centered that they ignore an intriguing world that passes so generously at their fingertips. Not this fellow. Tiger watches Discovery Channel as much as Golf Channel. He reads. He absorbs. Used to be a phenom at video games.

Another facet of changing Woods is his dress. At times, his sponsors went for a new era look, with Tiger resembling a golfer who'd gone shopping on Mars. Today, it's traditional, stylish duds, often grays and blues and black.

IMG, Nike and Tiger understand his sales appeal, above all, is to country club people with plenty of money. This isn't the NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball. Expect no earrings, beards or tattoos.

Woods and the others are dedicated to humanizing the golf magician, making him as saleable as possible. That smile, bright as the White Cliffs of Dover, doesn't hurt.

Vices? He has a few. Mostly camouflaged. Woods tells off-color stories, but usually only within his circle. Although he sweats to sculpt the perfect body and infallible golf swing, Tiger loves pigging on cheeseburgers and fries.

He owns a golf cart. Uses it at Isleworth. Equipped for sound with seven speakers, including one under the seat. "Try it," he told Dave Kindred of Golf Digest. "Turn it up loud and the seat vibrates."

Whatever he wants.

Muhammad Ali is aging, Pele long retired, Michael Jordan sits in an executive chair, and now Woods is the hottest athlete in creation. His quest for perfection, so far, is relentless. Life records of Jack Nicklaus motivate the young stud.

After slaying competition at the 1997 Masters, but less than satisfied with golf mechanics, Woods rebuilt his swing with Harmon. Fixing what didn't seem broken.

Might he be like Edison, Einstein and Carver, a gifted human being who works endlessly to turn unmatched excellence into unimaginized art? After a period of adjustment, with critics asking, "What's happened to Tiger?" the resurgence came with even more brilliance.

No slackoff in sight.

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