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A Sense of Who He Is

It's the Wednesday after his triumph at this year's Masters, and Tiger Woods is tired. Nevertheless, he's in Las Vegas working his way through a list of responsibilities to his sponsors, his agents, his public, his friends and the world at large. Already today he has completed one photo shoot and consulted with advisers about preparations for the weekend's upcoming Tiger Jam V, which benefits his foundation. Now, shortly after two o'clock, he arrives at the Butch Harmon School of Golf behind the wheel of a massive SUV to review some videotapes with Harmon and for an interview with T&L Golf.

Tall and lean, with a well-developed chest and strong, sinewy forearms, Woods walks languidly across the parking lot. His posture is precise and his movement appropriately feline, but his face betrays either deep fatigue or a serenity that passeth all understanding. My guess is the former, especially given that the first thing he does after we take our seats in the cramped confines of Harmon's private office is to yawn.

"Pardon me," he says distractedly, settling in for the interview.

We talk, and at precisely the time preordained for our session to end, a handler knocks on the door, and for Woods it's on to the day's next obligation, a second photo shoot, this one on the range. The wind, raging at forty miles per hour, has cleared the facility of all but a handful of students in the middle of a three-day school and of actor Dennis Quaid, diligently practicing after a lesson with Harmon. But Woods is unfazed. Taking direction from the photographer, he turns on the charm and walks at a dead slow pace down the length of the range bouncing a ball off his club. Finally, after sitting briefly for a group photo with the students at the behest of Harmon, it is over, and Woods idly begins to hit balls with the seven-iron in his hand.

It would not be accurate to say that he is transformed by the play. He still seems fatigued, underwater. But gradually he does seem to leave the world of obligation behind and take refuge in a private place he loves much better. The demonstration he puts on—not staged for the small crowd that quickly gathers around but rather, one senses, to please himself—is mesmerizing. Mostly he hits knockdowns to a boulder on the left side of the fairway, shots that fight the wind in varying ways: high shots that ride the currents and curve fifty yards or more from right to left, lower shots that curve only twenty yards, still lower shots that skim a few feet above the turf and shots that cut so severely into the wind that they effectively fly dead straight, all zeroing in on the target like the tracings of some futuristic weapon. Even in the wild windstorm, one out of every half dozen or so actually hits the stone.

I was struck, standing there amid the onlookers, at how the basis of all of Woods's celebrity, of his enormous wealth and power, is his ability to hit little shots like these. And I found myself marveling at how incredibly simple it seemed—not just the act itself, which Woods makes look simple the way all great athletes make the feats they perform look simple, but the spirit of the act. He was just hitting balls, as simple as you please, from here, where they lay at his feet, to over there at the rock, where he willed them to go.

There is obviously nothing even remotely simple about the crush of events that surrounds Tiger Woods. Last year, for instance, in the process of taking home nearly $8 million in prize money, he played in twenty-nine tournaments and exhibitions in seven countries on three continents (winning nine times); he reportedly rang up endorsement income well in excess of $50 million; he gave clinics for kids; he held press conferences after practically every competitive round and made countless other public appearances; and he also found the time to hook up with Elin Nordegren, Jesper Parnevik's former nanny. Yet somehow, in person, at the vortex of all this activity, he remains almost preternaturally calm.

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