- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2007

When Tiger Woods arrives tomorrow at Congressional CC to host this week’s inaugural AT&T; National, the topic du jour is guaranteed to be the newest lady in his life: two-week-old Sam Alexis.

Woods and wife Elin celebrated the birth of the couple’s first child on June 18, approximately eight hours after the world’s No. 1 golfer finished one stroke behind Argentina’s Angel Cabrera at the 107th U.S. Open. Sam’s early arrival undoubtedly provided the perfect salve for the frustrating finale at Oakmont.

“I can’t describe how wonderful it is to be a father,” Woods wrote on his Web site when the couple released the first pictures of Sam a week later. “This is something I dreamed about and I’m enjoying every minute. It’s a good thing I don’t need much sleep.”

Woods claims he sleeps only three or four hours each night. That’s a fortunate trait, indeed, given the number of new projects and interests in his life — namely Sam, a seminal course-design firm and this week’s nascent PGA Tour event. Some would say Woods has welcomed triplets into his world over the last several months.

While doubting Woods tends to be a humbling exploit (see Stephen Ames, Rory Sabbatini, etc.), even the 12-time major champion isn’t sure what to expect when it comes to fatherhood’s impact on his schedule.

“My practice sessions are going to have to be tailored around [Sam] a little bit. I’ll have to move things around,” said Woods at the U.S. Open. “I don’t really know how my game is going to be affected by it, because I’ve never gone through it before.”

Nothing has ever been able to distract Woods inside the ropes. He endured the ultimate blow last year with the death of his father and best friend, Earl, who he will honor again this week with the AT&T; National’s Earl Woods Memorial Pro-Am.

In the immediate aftermath of Earl’s death, Woods missed the cut in his first major as a professional. But he rebounded from that brief stumble at Shinnecock Hills (U.S. Open) by winning the season’s final two majors and closing the year on a competition-mocking, six-event victory streak.

Still, Sam’s birth is likely to disrupt a carefully compartmentalized off-course routine that includes six weekly workouts that last up to three hours each, beginning with an astounding 40 minutes of stretching and mixing running, isometrics and weightlifting.

That exercise regimen, combined with a diet composed almost exclusively of grilled chicken and fish, vegetables and fruit, has allowed Woods to transform his wiry, 160-pound Stanford-era body (1996) into a 190-pound wedge of muscle the tailors at Nike struggle to contain.

“Pound for pound, I put him with any athlete in the world,” said Woods‘ trainer, Keith Kleven, in the latest issue of Men’s Fitness.

Given his close relationship with his parents and his perfectionist personality, Woods is almost certain to be a classic, modern-day, hands-on father — a Diaper Daddy.

“This is far more important than any game of golf,” said Woods recently of his coming role as a father. “I was very lucky to have two great parents. And I know that if I had to pick one thing that my parents gave me it was that I was never afraid to go fail, because I knew that I would always come home to a home of love.

“My parents loved me unconditionally. If I went out and I gave it my best and I screwed up, it didn’t matter. My parents always told me they loved me every night.”

What perhaps Tiger doesn’t realize yet as a new parent is that the stress-easing feeling of unconditional love works both ways. Tots tend to count smiles, not strokes.

“I played my best golf after Sue and I began having children,” said Nick Price, who won all three of his major titles and rose to World No. 1 in the three years following the birth of his first child, Gregory (1991). “Tiger doesn’t seem to need much help in this department, but our kids were an incredible stress release. All of a sudden, your perspective changes, golf wasn’t so crucial, and I found myself playing better than ever.”

Those few folks who suggest Tiger’s career might be adversely affected by fatherhood should take a closer look at history. Since 1960, a total of 16 players other than Woods have won three or more majors. The vast majority of those players (14) won most of their Slams after becoming parents. In fact, a startling number (11) didn’t win their first major until after they became fathers.

The only two players who didn’t follow the parental pattern were Seve Ballesteros and Ernie Els. That’s no surprise for Ballesteros, who was always as unpredictable in life as he was off the tee.

As for Els, Tiger and the mellow South African might be two of the more dissimilar people on the planet. If Tiger is type AAA, Els doesn’t belong in the same alphabet. Consider how the two reacted to another potentially life-changing occurrence: knee surgery.

Els totaled his knee before the 2005 PGA Championship and has been winless in the States since, recording one top-10 in his six subsequent major starts. Woods had surgery on his left knee in December 2002, returned to the game two months later … and won the Buick Invitational in his first post-scope start.

The bottom line is that a preponderance of historical evidence suggests that fatherhood will enhance, not hinder, Tiger’s career.

“I don’t think [fatherhood] will change a thing in terms of his golf,” said Jack Nicklaus, a father of five who won all 73 of his PGA Tour events, including his 18 majors, after Jackie was born in 1961. “I can almost assure you it will make him more content off the course. I know Barbara and the kids always helped keep me centered.”

Maybe a bit more centering is precisely what Tiger needs these days, as he breaks ground on his architectural debut in Dubai (Al Ruwaya) and juggles external responsibilities as tournament host, commercial pitchman, fund-raiser and sportsman of the last decade.

Perhaps Woods has been somewhat distracted of late. Nobody has missed the fact that he’s collected consecutive Slam silvers after taking Sunday leads, a disconcerting trend for the most merciless closer in sports history. And nobody has missed the fact that those two semi-blown saves came against Cabrera and Zach Johnson (Masters), two players who weren’t fit to shine Woods‘ spikes entering the season.

Perhaps Woods did need a little centering spark … like maybe the kind of spark a man can only get from a 5-pound princess.

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