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May 27, 1997|TIM KAWAKAMI

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: "Tiger: A Biography of Tiger Woods" By John Strege (Broadway Books).

Price: $25.

Yes, some 21-year-old lives are worth a well-written biography.

This is a crisp and canny book that, if anything, slightly and modestly underplays Woods' tournament-by-tournament journey into history.

Though Tiger Woods continues, almost every week, to slash out new, appealing chapters, the merit of this book is in the author's command of detail, the real feel for the velocity of Woods' rise and the sense of inevitability that surrounded him, even when he was a toddler.

Woods' Masters victory came too late to be included, but the pace of the story--from the six-year-old prodigy who volunteers his autograph to Sam Snead; to the dramatic string of U.S. Amateur titles; to perhaps his greatest day of golf, 18 under par in 36 holes of the Pacific 10 Championships; to an eerie cameo by a teasing Fuzzy Zoeller a year ago; to the decision to turn pro; to his two victories at the end of last season--allows no other conclusion:

Eldrick "Tiger" Woods, a champion his whole life, obsessed with golf and victory, was destined for this.

And clearly John Strege was there, almost from the beginning, as a witness with notebook in hand.

"From the first time he had picked up a club, he had an uncanny ability to close his mind to whatever lay ahead, enabling him to home in on the task at hand," Strege writes.

"On the golf course, he could ride the momentum of his own hot hand to a landslide victory, yet blithely dismiss an opponent's momentum as an aberration that wouldn't last long."

What is it--fate, fearlessness?--that keeps intersecting this product of Cypress, Stanford and two sage parents with all the great and swirling issues of our time?

Through it all, Woods seems to be the one least disturbed by the dance into history, and the wiliest observer amid the hurricane around him.

And, just as Woods repeatedly measures himself against the accomplishments of Jack Nicklaus, so will every future Woods book be measured against these 230 pages.

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