TIGER WOODS might seem to be momentarily parked between a
storied past and a golden future, but as he prepares for the
1996 Masters, a glance at his life reveals a young man evolving
so quickly, he could qualify as a walking study in time-lapse
During the college-am portion of the recent Southwestern
Intercollegiate at the North Ranch Country Club in Westlake
Village, Calif., the 20-year-old Stanford sophomore showed
himself to be a work in progress who has grown in three
dimensions since his memorable first appearance at the Masters
12 months ago.
First, he is bigger. Since winning the U.S. Amateur last August
at the Newport (R.I.) Country Club, Woods has gained 15 pounds,
as hormones, training-table cuisine and a weightlifting program
have combined to build up his heretofore wispy 6'2" frame to
155 pounds. His shoulders are wider and his forearms thicker.
Woods is also becoming a polished ambassador of the game. Far
from the reticent and self-contained stripling who was taken
aback by the rush of media that met his debut at Augusta
National, Woods now handles himself in public with aplomb. His
amateur partners at North Ranch, a boisterous threesome of
middle-aged men from the home club who each donated a few
hundred dollars to college golf for the privilege of playing
with the game's leading prince, loved hitting their popgun
drives and immediately blurting things like, "I hope you learned
something from that one, Tiger!" Woods played the amiable
straight man, all the while responding to the gallery's
autograph and photo requests with a pleasant "No problem." It
was a performance straight from the book of his famous dinner
companion Arnold Palmer.
Finally, he is a better golfer. Woods is quickly transforming
himself from an untamed young gun to a mature shotmaker. While
his increased strength allows him to hit his tee shots even
farther than he could as the statistically longest hitter over
four rounds at the '95 Masters (in the last six months he has
caved in or otherwise broken five driver heads through the sheer
force he imparts at impact), there is now an educated restraint
to his driving that makes his mishits much more playable. The
gearing down is even more noticeable in his iron play. Whereas
Woods used to favor high-flying approaches that were majestic
but hard to control, he has developed a shot that flies lower,
curves less and carries less spin. He is also hitting his clubs
shorter distances with shallower divots, all in the interest of
accuracy, consistency and control.
The impetus for the shotmaking changes was his performance at
Augusta, where he squandered his impressive driving with
rough-hewn iron play. Except on the four par-5s, which he hit
with regularity in two using as little as a nine-iron, Woods had
few makable birdie putts, the primary reason he could fare no
better than a respectable 72-72-77-72-293 to tie for 41st.
Four months later Woods won the Amateur on a bone-dry,
links-style Newport course where distance control and an innate
feel for the bounce of the ball were at a premium. Woods used a
new technique with his irons in which his action was compact and
his hands passive. His 140-yard eight-iron punched to within two
feet on the final hole of the championship match was a perfect
The point is, the Tiger Woods who will attack Augusta National
this week is much more than a young amateur who will be happy
just to play on the weekend. A few hours after finishing his
final round last year, as he sat in the Crow's Nest and watched
Ben Crenshaw win, a reflective Woods realized he had been
capable of more. "You know, this place is perfect for me," he
said quietly. "I've just got to refine some things." A year
later few doubt that Woods has the game, the course knowledge
and the poise to play his way into contention.
"I'm getting myself ready," he said after finessing a seven-iron
from 155 yards to within 10 feet of the pin during his practice
round at North Ranch. "That's the kind of shot I need at
Augusta." Two days later Woods won the 54-hole event by three
strokes with a 213 total, his third victory in eight collegiate
events this season (he also has three seconds). "I hit it
terrible, but I got it around," he said. "I've got a lot of work
to do. But I'm getting closer. If I'm lucky, everything will
peak at the right time."
If Woods does do well at Augusta, it will fuel speculation that
he is on the verge of reneging on his vow to postpone his
professional career until he gets a degree. In addition to the
level of his game and the millions in endorsements he should
receive the moment he turns pro, there are plenty of reasons to
believe Woods is not long for college golf. For one, unlike last
year's Stanford team, which lost the NCAA title to Oklahoma
State in a sudden-death playoff, this year's Cardinal is no
powerhouse. Woods admits he gets no particular thrill out of
week-in, week-out college competition. "I keep myself interested
by working on my own game," he says.
Woods is also disappointed by some of the rules he must adhere
to as a college golfer. Because of NCAA regulations, the clinics
that he did as a junior golfer in urban areas to help introduce
more minorities to golf have had to stop; also, the threat of
sanctions against Tiger has forced his father, Earl, to put on
hold a national program with major sponsors designed to give
inner-city youth access to the game. Tiger was understandably
annoyed after the NCAA declared him ineligible for a few hours
while it investigated whether he had broken a rule by allowing
Palmer to buy him dinner one night last October. After Woods was
persuaded to mail Palmer a $25 check to cover the meal, there
was further unpleasantness when at a charity dinner last
December, a group of Palo Alto businessmen held an impromptu
auction for the canceled check without first asking the family
if they could do so. It fetched a price of $2,500. When Stanford
coach Wally Goodman asked Earl to send the check, he heatedly
refused. "That check is a piece of golf history that marks the
meeting of two great players," says Earl. "It never belonged to
the school. It belonged to Tiger."
Indeed, Earl and Kultida Woods have softened their original
imperative that their son graduate before turning pro. Kultida
worries that the academic and athletic demands on Tiger are
becoming too stressful. "I will support whatever he decides,"
she says. "I give him my advice that money is not the issue and
to be careful not to sacrifice his youth. But my boy is a man
now, and I trust his judgment."
As the most acclaimed college golfer ever, Woods is under
pressure. Recently ESPN decided to telecast the Far Western
Tournament at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif. The
telecast was scheduled with Woods's star power in mind. However,
because the Far Western ends on the day that he planned to
travel to Augusta, Woods wanted to skip it. Yet he felt
compelled to play. "I would have liked to have had the extra
day," he says, "but I kind of owe it to college golf to play."
Meanwhile, several PGA Tour players believe Woods should be
competing for a living against the best in the world. "He might
be spinning his wheels if he stays in school all four years,"
says Curtis Strange, who played with Woods in the second round
at Augusta last year. "If his game is ready, and there is no
doubt in my mind that it is, I would advise him to come out."
Still, Woods is holding firm to his intention to stay in school
through his scheduled graduation in 1998. The reason is simple:
He loves college. Woods comes from a background that stresses
academics, which was the primary reason he chose Stanford. He is
an economics major who takes his classes seriously.
"Definitely I could be playing better golf at another school,"
he says. "Because of the workload, I'm always tired, and my mind
is never clear. A lot of times on the course I'll be preoccupied
with how much studying I have to do. I'm no brainiac. I have to
work hard to get by. But I'm here to get an education and live
the total college experience."
Perhaps what Woods enjoys most about Stanford is that within its
enclosed environment he can escape the scrutiny that has
increasingly followed him as he has racked up three straight
U.S. Junior championships and two consecutive U.S. Amateur
titles. At Stanford, Woods is among other high achievers who do
not treat him as anyone special.
"Stanford is like utopia," he says. "It's not the real world,
which I guess is why I want to spend more time here. Maybe my
game is ready, but the question is, am I ready mentally and
emotionally to live the life of a pro? I know for sure I will be
here next year."
Said with conviction, but upcoming performances could
justifiably alter Woods's perspective. Besides the Masters, he
is pointing to two other events: the NCAA Championship, May
29-June 1 at the Honors Course near Chattanooga, and the U.S.
Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge in Cornelius, Ore. Winning the NCAA
individual title would prove that Woods is a dominant college
golfer--he tied for fifth as a freshman--and an unprecedented
third straight Amateur championship would establish him as the
most dominant amateur since Bobby Jones.
Of course, getting in the hunt on Sunday at the Masters would
even further convince Woods that he has simply become too good a
golfer to stay in college. Ironically, by preparing hard for the
week, Woods is doing everything in his power to end his
With a relative lull in his academic schedule, Woods has been
studying tapes of Masters telecasts dating back to 1988, all
with an eye toward better understanding how to play the course.
He has filed away the advice of Fred Couples, Greg Norman and
others, and he has practice rounds lined up with Palmer on
Monday, Norman on Tuesday and Couples on Wednesday. Finally,
rather than employ an Augusta National caddie, as he did last
year, Woods is bringing Jay Brunza, his sports psychologist, who
has carried the bag in all five of his USGA titles. "He's got as
good a chance as anybody, as long as he hits it," says Norman.
"He has all the other elements, too."
Woods is just eager to see how far he has come in the last 12
months. "That's what I'm looking forward to the most," he says.
"Augusta is going to tell me where I am."