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Tale of Tiger: Titles Are Par for the Course : Sports: Cypress' Woods shot to top of amateur golf at 18. He's been a future pro since first teeing off at 2.

January 09, 1995|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PALO ALTO — Tiger Woods lost a gold chain and a watch during a Nov. 30 robbery, when America's most renowned amateur golfer had a knife held to his throat, was struck in the face and knocked to the ground in a Stanford University parking lot.

Woods didn't lose his sense of humor, though.

"I talked to him at 2 a.m. the night after the incident," said Earl D. Woods, Tiger's father. "He said, 'Pops, you know that overbite I had? It's gone. My teeth are perfectly aligned.' "

Just like Tiger's life, which has always had a certain symmetry: golf prodigy on one hand, gifted student on the other; a celebrity in the public's eye, just one of the guys to his buddies.

The 19-year-old has followed an almost primrose cart path, playing his first round of golf in Pampers, racking up so many trophies and awards that his parents turned the living room of their Cypress home into a Tiger shrine, and capturing amateur golf's most prestigious prize when he won the U.S. Amateur last August.

And now this bump in the road.

It wasn't the first: Woods received a death threat before playing in the 1992 Los Angeles Open, and security officers caught two women with handguns during his practice round before the 1993 Byron Nelson Classic in Irving, Tex.

But his father is concerned it might not be the last. "Let's face it. A lot of major black athletes have had threats. It just goes with the territory," he said. "I just hope this doesn't trigger ideas in other minds around the world."

The elder Woods, 62, has always been prepared for those \o7 other\f7 minds. A former Green Beret who served in Vietnam, he uses his military training to identify--and avoid--potential trouble spots while traveling with Tiger on the amateur golf circuit. But now that Tiger, an Anaheim Western High School graduate, is in college, Earl can't always be on the lookout.

"The only thing Tiger can do, from a counterterrorist point of view, is to be alert," Woods said. "But who expects to be mugged in front of their own house in a well-lit parking lot?"

His son, a Stanford freshman who is a willowy 6-foot-1, 150 pounds, dismissed the robbery as an isolated incident. "People get mugged every day," he said in a school-issued release. "I just want to move on from this and bury it in the past."

He appears to be doing so, with the help of Virginia-based sports psychologist Jay Brunza.

"Like anyone who experiences this kind of traumatic event, it's scary," said Brunza, who for years has helped Woods control his emotions on the golf course. "But given the circumstances, he seems to be doing fine. You grow through experiences like this, and that's what Tiger will do."

But doesn't it put a damper on what has been an incredibly successful year for Woods?

"No way," said his father. "You can't take away what is already done."

Eldrick (Tiger) Woods has always been in the spotlight. He made his first television appearance at 2, was featured in Sports Illustrated at 15 and attracted huge galleries when he became one of the youngest to play in a PGA Tour event when he was invited as a 16-year-old to the 1992 L.A. Open.

But last August, Woods, who turned 19 Dec. 30, became a golfing icon. Staging a furious rally on the last day of the U.S. Amateur, he made up a six-hole deficit in the 36-hole final to beat Trip Kuehne of McKinney, Tex. The victory was punctuated by his made-for-television, fist-pumping celebration after a 14-foot birdie putt on the second-to-last hole.

"The Tonight Show," "The Late Show With David Letterman," ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN and CNN all called after the Amateur. Woods turned them all down.

The media crush continued at Stanford, where assistant sports information director Steve Raczynski said he received 75 media requests during a two-week stretch of September.

"We took a little poll in the office, asking what athlete has entered Stanford with more notoriety." Raczynski said. "We had John McEnroe, who advanced to the Wimbledon semifinals the summer before college, (swimmer) Janet Evans, who won Olympic gold medals before coming here, (quarterback) John Elway. None of them was in Tiger's category."

But the only way Woods, who won two of his first four college tournaments this fall, felt he could devote enough time to golf, school and accommodate the media is to have monthly news conferences, virtually eliminating one-on-one interviews.

Yes, he's \o7 that\f7 huge.

At his last news conference, in November, you could sense Woods was growing a bit tired of all the attention when he sometimes referred to reporters as "you guys," the way Michael Jordan does.

But Woods is a polished speaker who knows to keep his cool in the face of intrusive questions and how to entertain reporters while avoiding controversy.

"I'm always myself," Woods said. "Always tell the truth. Always be who you are. You have to be discreet sometimes--you can't just blurt out what you want to say--but you can phrase things so they come out the right way."

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