As the eight-deep throng surged forward into the outstretched
arms of ear-pieced security personnel, Tiger Woods reared back
and let 'em rip. For a moment the pack was hushed; then Woods
threw his hands into the air and turned into the embrace of his
friend Jerry Chang. Behind them Elin Nordegren, Woods's
girlfriend, expressed her delight by twitching her meticulously
groomed eyebrows. Beyond the security line the now raucous crowd
exchanged high fives. Woods punctuated the moment with his
signature fist pump. "Yo, eleven!" a spectator cried.
The thick-necked man at Woods's side at the craps table shoved a
toppling, kaleidoscopic stack of chips in front of Tiger. It was
almost 11 p.m. on Friday, April 19, but Woods was just getting
started. That night, as he threw dice and later tried his hand at
blackjack at Las Vegas's Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino--home base
for Tiger Jam V, the Tiger Woods Foundation benefit that was to
begin the next morning--the scene on the casino floor was chaotic
as word spread of the Masters champion's presence. Yet the
pandemonium never fazed Woods, who seemed oblivious to the crowd
around him. At the tables and during the 24 hours of golf and
goodwill that followed, Woods offered a glimpse of his particular
genius: how a man can be the world's most famous, most
charismatic athlete, and simultaneously be robotic and detached
from the public that adores him.
Not that Tiger hasn't reached out in other ways. Having raised
about $4 million since 1998, the Jam has helped the Woods
Foundation support programs like Start Something, a youth
leadership program that promotes community activism. For years
the foundation, through a series of clinics featuring Woods, has
also been active in kids' golf, particularly in areas where
access to lessons is limited.
Woods, though, was as inaccessible as he was omnipresent during
his fifth Jam, gliding from a three-hole celebrity golf match on
Saturday morning through a mingle-with-role-models session for
children in the afternoon, to a concert (featuring VH-1 darlings
Train and Woods's longtime favorite, Don Henley) in the evening.
The day was, in the words of Woods's MTV pal, Carson Daly, "a
chance to do the right thing with Tiger. And the golf and the
gambling didn't hurt."
That said, if you still believe that Michael Jordan, retired or
no, is the athlete atop the celebrity A-list, consider Tiger's
stroll through Mandalay Bay to the craps table on that Friday
night. He shone like the Bat Signal, drawing scores of spectators
and every celebrity in the joint, even as he ignored almost every
one of them. Daly, who only minutes before had been the crowd's
focus, yelled repeatedly to Woods from a nearby table, eliciting
no response. Opposite Daly, Dylan McDermott, star of The
Practice, coolly nodded hello. Zip. Elton Brand and Corey
Maggette of the Los Angeles Clippers pointed as they slid past
Woods's table completely unnoticed, though they stand 6'8" and
6'6", respectively. King of Queens star Kevin James and ESPN
anchor Stuart Scott seemed content merely to be on Tiger's side
of the rope, eclipsed though they were. Meanwhile, the posse's
lesser cling-ons beamed with once-removed pride, basking in the
glow of those basking in the glow.
Around midnight the pack swelled considerably when Charles
Barkley and former volleyball star and aspiring pro golfer
Gabrielle Reece caught up to Horde Tiger in the
baccarat-blackjack lounge. (At blackjack Tiger stationed himself
at first base with the Amstel-toting Nordegren in his lap.
Woods's father, Earl, was the third-sacker.) Perhaps sensing that
the collective Q rating was reaching critical mass, Daly quietly
slipped away. "It's amazing what he has to deal with, all those
people coming at him," he said before leaving. "We were supposed
to play golf today, but he flaked. Guess it was a family
emergency or something."
In the night's wee hours, long after Tiger, Nordegren & Co. had
departed, Barkley stood by a roulette wheel and gave his spin on
his famous friend. "I knew five years ago that Tiger was the
best ever," he said. "I've played with Phil [Mickelson] and all
those guys, and Tiger does things they can't do. They're
intimidated by Tiger. They're soft as s---. Black Jesus scares
them." Everyone within earshot nodded.
Earshot expanded considerably on Saturday with the celebrity
golfers miked for the morning's match, a better-ball against
Woods, during which Barkley (teamed with James, McDermott and
Reece) dominated with his mouth, if not his play. Before the
match got under way at the par-3 16th hole at Rio Secco Golf
Club, Woods spent less than a minute posing for pictures with the
30-odd children intent on meeting him, leaving the handshakes and
hellos to his fellow celebs. Barkley and Reece, especially,
complied with infectious good cheer, taking turns posing for
pictures with the disbelieving Start Something kids, tousling
their hair and teasing them playfully. Off to the side Tiger
huddled with his coach, Butch Harmon, who would emcee the
proceedings, and took some practice swings with his driver, one
of three clubs (along with a nine-iron and a five-iron) he'd be
allowed to use. Somebody in the 200-strong gallery made an
off-color remark, and Tiger briefly flashed his famous grin
before taking a few more practice swipes, refusing to let the
merry ruckus upset his focus for long.
Tiger could afford to be his retiring self, what with the
irrepressible Barkley on hand. When McDermott skanked his opening
tee shot all of 20 yards, Barkley couldn't help himself. "You're
definitely on the right show," Barkley cried, "because you need
some practice." The sound track to much of the exhibition was
innuendo-filled, Reece-specific banter that, given the setting,
was inappropriate even by Barkley's standards. As Reece stood
over a putt on the second hole, Harmon asked Barkley for a read.
"I see a big, tall, sexy man for you," he said with a leer. "I've
got one of those already--my husband," she replied. "Then pretend
you're Mormon," Barkley shot back, "and get another one." All the
while, Tiger's concentration never flagged. He mostly kept his
distance from Barkley and the rest, even on the greens, content
to read his putts and smile at his opponents' miscues. Though
equipped with a microphone, Tiger rarely spoke if not spoken to.
There weren't a lot of yuks for the kids, either. During the
march down the first fairway, one of the five lucky children
picked to caddie was asked if he played golf. He shook his head
no, and was then asked for whom he was looping. "I'm not sure--I
think it's the guy on TV," he said, meaning McDermott, who was
standing by the green waiting for his putter. The marshals
noticed the delay and hurried the kid along. Sagging under the
bag's weight, he double-timed it down the fairway.
With the match all square on the final tee, Woods's drive faded
right, while James's blazed down the center of the fairway. Tiger
attempted not to scowl. Too late. Fun time was clearly over.
Using his driver, Tiger then missed a match-winning putt. Another
scowl. The match went to a closest-to-the-pin chip-off, and Tiger
lost to James. A final scowl.
Tiger was corralled for a quick photo op with the children before
bolting to the clubhouse, leaving his conquerors to face the
media. Refusing to gloat, they instead were in agreement as to
the day's real winners. "When it comes to helping kids," said
Reece, "how can you not?" Agreed James, "It's all for the kids."
Reece was later asked about Tiger's laser-sharp focus during the
match. "Well, I came out at 7 a.m. to hit balls, and there was
only one person already here," she said. "It's impossible for him
to shift down a gear. For him, it wasn't a ha-ha thing out there
Back at the hotel 90 minutes later it was time for the Jam's
outreach portion: Start Something Kids' Day, during which the
children divided into groups and moved among five Dream Booths,
where wisdom was offered by inspirational role models: a chef, a
Las Vegas SWAT team member, Miss Teen USA, some Cirque du Soleil
performers and Earl Woods.
Daly introduced Tiger, whose five-minute talk touched on needing
to love yourself before you can love others, and how much fun it
is to walk off the course having won a tournament "because that's
what competition is all about--beating your opponents," he said.
"There's only one winner." Asked how long he has played golf,
Tiger replied, "Since I came out of my mom." He then spoke of the
wonderful support system he enjoyed as a child, having role
models such as his mother, Kultida, and Earl. Sitting behind the
children, Earl took a final, fitful drag on his cigarette and
doused it in his coffee cup. Tiger left soon afterward.
No matter, for it was booth-visit time. One Cirque du Soleil
performer wielded his outsized codpiece like an epee, while SWAT
team member Mark Fowler opened with tales of the gunshot wound
that claimed his left femur (it's been replaced by a titanium
rod) before moving on to the intricacies of body armor and
high-powered weaponry. Then there was celebrity chef Ming Tsai.
When 15-year-old Mickey Phillips returned to Tsai's Asian burrito
stand (where three other young Start Something girls stood
cutting vegetables) in search of her misplaced camera, she found
a similar one and hoped aloud it was hers. "If there are naked
pictures of Tiger's father on the roll," Tsai said, "it's not
yours." Chirping crickets could be heard over the sound of
At his mini-golf booth Earl Woods, leaning heavily on a putter,
proved the most sincere of the bunch. With gravity he spoke about
self-discipline (as when a teenage Tiger cut his own curfew by an
hour) and self-reflection because "that's the way the universe
operates," he said, "from truth."
Near the session's end he was interrupted by an aggressive p.r.
rep for Target, one of the event's sponsors, who asked that Earl
give the kids some putting tips, to be filmed by her camera crew.
"But this ain't about golf," Earl replied.
"Oh, come on, it's all set up," she demanded through a tight
smile. "Right, kids? Now who wants to putt? Come on! Who wants
The klieg light glared. With a sigh Earl turned and drained a
six-footer. Everyone clapped.
At the afternoon's official press conference Tiger was trotted
out for a sound bite--"It's really incredible to have such
incredible talent here," he said--and was then joined by
be-slinged comic Dennis Miller, who had injured his right arm,
he said, "trying to swipe John Madden's last potsticker at
Xinhua." At one point Miller cut off Tiger to announce that
"Kevin James and I will be doing a benefit next week for Vijay
Singh's approach shots." (Tiger laughed.) Later, as producer
Quincy Jones, who spent Kids' Day at a back table eating chicken
fingers, waxed poetic on Tiger's greatness, Miller interrupted
with his own hosanna: "I want to say that I admire Tiger because
he's the only guy who makes MJ think, My life is s---."
Finally, Earl stepped to the microphone and, sudden as thunder,
summed up the entire weekend, and his son's dilemma. "As for his
golf, you ain't seen nothin' yet," he said. "It'll keep getting
better and better. But his impact on this world can be so much
greater. It's a hell of a responsibility, to make that impact. So
there's your task, son." Tiger nodded.
The concert itself was uninspiring--the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay
Events Center's empty upper deck didn't help--as was a clearly
impaired Miller. Failing for the fifth straight time to complete
his punch line, Miller was told to "go have another drink" by
several boo-birds, who had paid a minimum of $45 a ticket for
the night's entertainment. After a long pause he laughed
nonsensically and introduced Henley...who was not scheduled to
go on for another 15 minutes and wasn't ready. McDermott came to
the rescue and brought out Tiger, outfitted in a sharp
monochrome suit, to say a few words. "We raised $890,000 today,
with your help," Woods said to rapturous applause. (The final
tally was more than $1 million, the bulk of the money raised in
a private, silent auction, during which Barkley paid $200,000
for a round with Woods.)
After Henley and Train had finished, the night's pulse began to
quicken. Barkley and Daly holed up in the baccarat room, waiting
to go to Tiger's private party, high in the Mandalay Bay towers.
When the time came, they made their way through a casino full of
gawkers, trailed by the usual assortment of hangers-on. With them
strode a surprise visitor--in a sleek black suit, face frozen,
eyes straight ahead--who knew something of Tiger's task and his
anointment. But chances were, such weighty subjects would be
avoided, for on this night Michael Jordan seemed just another
moth come to the flame.
They're soft as s---. BLACK JESUS SCARES THEM."
so much greater. SO THERE'S YOUR TASK, SON."
"FOR VIJAY SINGH'S APPROACH SHOTS."