What's Next?

Tiger Woods faces a future that's suddenly filled with uncertainty
June 25, 2006

Tiger lookedsmall last week, like he hadn't been in the gym in a while. Normally, hestrides fairways as if he owns them, but at the U.S. Open he looked like avisitor. His shirts were loose, and the great oaks of Winged Foot dwarfed him.He played two rounds of 76, and how many times did you hear him swear? Not eventwice. There were few fist pumps and little chitchat with Steve Williams. TheNew York fans were standing and whooping for him: Welcome back, Tiga! It washis first tournament since the Masters and the first tournament since the deathof his father, Earl, at age 74 on May 3. But Tiger Woods is not Arnold Palmer.His fire doesn't come from outside the ropes but from deep inside, from theseeds Earl planted there.

The U.S. Open wasthe first tournament of the rest of Tiger's life. Tiger had played 37 majors asa professional, Earl always watching. He won 10 of them and had never missed acut. Earl's youthful instruction to Tiger was to "let the legend grow,"and the son was dutiful. He won at Augusta as a boy golfer, and again in 2005as a married man, playing for his ailing father, holing a you-have-to-be-jokingpitch shot down the stretch. That was not the Tiger we saw last week, when hebegan his Thursday round with three straight bogeys and who finished his Fridayround bogey-bogey to miss the cut by three. It was another golfer, one who didordinary things.

Tiger still hashis mother--and he still has Jack. Nicklaus's list of professional majors won,18 titles long, has always been Tiger's ultimate goal. With Earl gone, thatlist becomes more important than ever.

Nicklaus had withhis father what Tiger had with Earl. When Charlie Nicklaus died in February1970, at age 56, Nicklaus was 30, the same age Tiger is now. When his fatherwas on his deathbed, Jack was racked with guilt. In 1968 and '69 and in theearly events in '70, by his own admission, Nicklaus was getting by on talentalone. His father had given him so much, and what was the son doing with it?Eating oysters, playing tennis, taking his kids on ski trips. Charlie Nicklausdied, and Jack won four of the next 10 majors.

Tiger's in adifferent place. Earl never saw Tiger take a slide, maybe because Tiger doesn'thave a wood-paneled station wagon filled with kids, as Nicklaus did. Tiger andElin are newlyweds, really. They're building a homestead downbeach from Jackand Barbara. You can imagine Tiger as an outstanding father, but that might saphis fire. (Jack was a father his whole career.) Tiger already wants to playinfrequently and always at the highest level, as Bobby Jones did. A tall order.What will drive him? Wealth is not an issue, and his legend would be intacteven if he retired today. His father--his first golf partner and his bestfriend--is dead.

Tiger's 30s willbe nothing like his 20s, nor should they be. Jack's long list is a great andhonorable and inspiring thing, but Tiger has probably figured out something:It's only a piece of paper.

Last week Tigerwas asked to boil down his father's special gift.

"Love,"he said.

He can't play forhis father's hugs anymore. The void will be vast.

Happy Father'sDay, damn Hallmark holiday.

TRUST ME

by JAMES P. HERRE

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PHOTOAL TIELEMANS (WOODS)SHAKY GROUND Woods was way off at Winged Foot. SIX PHOTOS VAUGHN YOUTZ/ZUMA/CORBIS (LORENZO LAMAS); TRISTAR PICTURES/PHOTOFEST (STALLONE); FRED VUICH (TROPHY); SCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGES (SHOE); DAVID WALBERG (CROUCH); DARREN CARROLL (VILLEGAS)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)