In Steinberg's mind, a visit to Taiwan in the fall of 1999 stands out. "The crowds lining the street when we arrived at his hotel from the airport were unlike anything I had ever seen," he recalls. "The police put up blockades, and there were people as far as you could see. It was like the entire country was there, just to catch a glimpse of him walking from the limo into the hotel and then onto the elevator."
With Woods winning majors left and right, this sort of thing has only gotten worse. For example, earlier this year in New Zealand, an estimated 12,000 people showed up to watch Woods play a nine-hole practice round on the Tuesday before a tournament.
In all likelihood, Woods will become the first billionaire sportsman before he hits forty—maybe even before he hits thirty. That kind of money, coupled with Woods's high profile, represents extraordinary power, and I tried to get him to talk about where it all might lead. As the game's dominant figure, did he see a role for himself bringing people and cultures together?His foundation, I pointed out, was already helping less advantaged kids get a leg up on life through the lessons that golf teaches. He acknowledged his desire to help people but demurred at the idea of a larger purpose. "That's not why I play the game of golf," he insisted. "I play because I love to compete."
For now, maybe, it's difficult enough just to maintain some kind of sanity in his life. When Woods travels professionally, for instance, usually all he sees of local cultures are the views along the roadways connecting the airport, the hotel and the golf course. When asked to describe the distinctive aspects of some of the countries he has visited, he responded in part by assessing the different applause and cheering patterns among fans (quicker clapping in Japan, more yelling in Europe). To some extent, of course, he ventures so seldom into the host cultures because he knows he will be mobbed, but the bigger part is because he's there to do a job, and that requires discipline, especially since Woods's constitution is relatively fragile (he is especially vulnerable to allergies).
Sampling local cuisines?Not much when he's overseas. "I try to stick with something that my system is accustomed to," he said. "I may try something here and there, but I do it very rarely. If I get sick, I can't play." Hobnobbing with locals?One of the few ways that happens is when Woods ventures out to a gym. Sometimes he uses the hotel gym, sometimes he finds one through the phone book and sometimes he uses the exercise equipment in someone's house. But workouts are always part of the bargain. "My body is so accustomed to the same routine, I can't afford to deviate from it," he said.
A couple of days after my interview with Woods I played golf in Las Vegas with three of his friends. These were guys who worked with him professionally but who had also gotten to know him over the years, and the main thing they helped me understand was that Woods, even in his theoretically private moments, feels on display. Greg Nared, a Nike executive who travels with him extensively, pointed out that Woods often cannot even order room service without being asked for an autograph by the staffer who delivers the food. Woods can and sometimes does go out to restaurants, buy groceries for himself, see movies in theaters and attend sporting events, but it's seldom without fanfare.
"Even going through a fast-food drive-thru with Tiger can be a problem," says Nared, a former basketball star at Maryland. "It never fails. Once he pulls up to the window, the clerk or whoever says, 'It's Tiger Woods!' and everyone in the place comes to the window to look at him. Tiger's very friendly, but he's sitting there holding up his money and after awhile he always has to remind them, 'Hey, what about my food?'"