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For Tiger, it’s child’s play
Perspective is a 5-pound princess.
Emerging from more than two weeks of daddy duty, Tiger Woods assumed his place as king of Congressional yesterday, returning to the game as playing host of this week's inaugural AT&T National.
"I've just been changing diapers and doing feedings," Woods said, speaking publicly for the first time since the birth of his daughter, Sam Alexis, on June 18. "Something that [wife] Elin and I talked about on our first night was how can you love something so much that didn't exist the day before. We never experienced anything like that, and it's certainly something that we want to experience again."
Perhaps the most interesting news from the 35-minute interview was the revelation that his wife was admitted to the hospital June 14, the Thursday of the U.S. Open's opening round, because of complications with her pregnancy. Though Woods did not elaborate on those complications, his runner-up finish to Argentina's Angel Cabrera at Oakmont just hours before Sam's birth now stands as a remarkable testament to his focus.
"It wasn't life threatening or anything, but [Elin] had a few problems and had to be admitted," said Woods, who played the Open in near-constant communication with his wife and her doctor. "It was not easy [staying at the Open] because I wanted to be with her. But the doctor and Elin said, 'There's nothing you can do. So go out there and just get a W.' Well, I came close. But that night was infinitely more rewarding than any 'W' ever could have been."
On numerous occasions leading up to the U.S. Open, Woods said he would withdraw from an event, even a major, if competing meant possibly missing the birth of the couple's first child. That promise might have been put to the ultimate test had Woods shaved one more stroke off his total at Oakmont to force an 18-hole Monday playoff with Cabrera.
"I'm not going down that road. That didn't happen, so it would all be hypothetical," Woods said, taking the same noncommittal stance the USGA adopted two weeks ago when confronted with the playoff scenario. "I flew home [Sunday night after the Open], landed in Orlando, went straight to the hospital. And next thing you know we have Sam Alexis in our arms."
For those wondering about Sam's athletic prowess, Woods surprised few in attendance yesterday by admitting he already has put a golf club in her hands.
"She couldn't quite hold it, but it was there," the 31-year-old superstar said.
Woods also resolved a topic of debate over the last two weeks by explaining the origin of his daughter's name.
"My father always called me Sam since the day I was born. He rarely ever called me Tiger," Woods said. "I would ask him, 'Why don't you ever call me Tiger?' And he would say, 'Well, you look more like a Sam.'
"We wanted to have a name that would be meaningful to one side of the family, either mine or Elin's. Because she was born basically on an extension of Father's Day, [Sam] just happened to fit."
While yesterday's talk was focused almost entirely on first-time fatherhood, Woods didn't come to Congressional to hand out baby photos ... or a trophy.
The 12-time major champion spent three days at the end of last week working in Orlando with swing instructor Hank Haney. And if yesterday's exquisite, dew-sweeping, practice-round performance is any indication of the state of his game, Woods looks poised to deliver a dedication victory.
"It was kind of nice to get out of the house a little bit and some hot, muggy, fresh air," said Woods, who has three victories and two silvers (both majors) in nine starts this season. "As of right now, I've had a pretty consistent year. I've had some high finishes but still would like to get a 'W' in the majors. I was basically three shots away from possibly having another opportunity to get four [majors] in a row. Hopefully, I can get it going again."
Woods finished 19th at Congressional in the 1997 U.S. Open (74-67-73-72). But a decade later, he's a far more complete and consistent tactician.
"I was actually telling [caddie Steve Williams] that today, that I wish I had the understanding I now have of how to play the game back then. Because strategically, I would have played [Congressional] much differently than I did. I just didn't make the right moves consistently. I just didn't quite have the knowledge or understanding of how to play. Consequently, I think if you look at the first half of my career in the majors you'll see that either I won or didn't come close to winning; versus the last half, I win or I have been in contention to win a lot of them."
In his last 10 major starts, Woods has finished worse than fourth only once (2006 U.S. Open), winning four times. And while this week's incarnation of Congressional (par-70, 7,204 yards) is a slightly kinder, gentler track than USGA-tweaked beast of 1997, both the elite field and the venerable venue give the AT&T National a semi-major feel.
By John R. Bolton
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