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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 28, 2006

Winning can't make up for Tiger's loss

By Nancy Armour
Associated Press

Tiger Woods

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It was, even by Tiger Woods' standards, an exceptional year: eight PGA Tour victories, including a stretch of six in a row that took him from the British Open to the beginning of October.

What made that finish most remarkable, though, was the loss that preceded it. For anyone who's watched Woods dismantle opponents and golf courses alike and come away wondering if he was indeed human, the May death of his beloved father Earl was a heartbreaking reminder he is.

Woods' ability to channel his grief into an extraordinary run of six straight PGA Tour wins, including the British Open and the PGA Championship, was chosen as the sports story of the year in voting by members of The Associated Press.

"The hardest thing for me to do was play golf," Woods said recently. "Usually people go to work to get away from a loss like that."

This was the third time Woods has earned such honors. He was the story of the year in 2000, when he won three of the four majors, and in 1997, after he won his first Masters title.

Woods received 422 points in the voting. Vince Young leading Texas to the national title with a thrilling fourth-quarter rally over defending champion Southern California was second with 380 points, followed by the doping stories involving Barry Bonds (342 points) and Tour de France winner Floyd Landis (303 points).

The rest of the top 10 were: Barbaro winning the Kentucky Derby, then shattering his leg during the Preakness; the Steelers winning their first Super Bowl title since 1980; the Duke lacrosse scandal; Italy's World Cup victory and the head butt seen 'round the world; the Detroit Tigers' remarkable turnaround; and Andre Agassi retiring after the U.S. Open.

Earl Woods was grooming his son to be a golfer before the boy could even walk and, had he handled things differently, their story could have been that of any other prodigy driven too far, too fast. But Earl Woods' tough lessons were accompanied by even more love, and he never pushed further than his son wanted to go. Instead of bitterness and resentment, Tiger Woods had only love, respect and admiration for his "Pops."

"Dad introduced me to the game of golf," Woods said. "He taught me a lot of life lessons on the golf course. So when I came back and started working on my fundamentals, who do you think I learned my fundamentals from? I learned them from my dad."

The elder Woods' death on May 3 wasn't a surprise. A habitual smoker who had heart bypass surgery in 1986, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998 and was treated with radiation. The cancer returned in 2004 and spread throughout his body.

He was so ill last Christmas that Tiger Woods went several days without sleeping, trying to cram in as much time as he could with his father. That Earl Woods was father, mentor, coach, sounding board and buddy made his death all the more wrenching.

"My dad was my best friend and greatest role model," Woods said when his father died, "and I will miss him deeply."

Though Woods won his first two starts of the year, he wasn't at his best with his father always on his mind. As the father grew sicker, it showed in the son's game. He tied for 20th at Bay Hill, where he'd won four times, then tied for 29th at The Players Championship.

He went on to the Masters, but it was the first time Earl Woods didn't accompany him to Augusta National. Woods also believed it would be the last time his father would see him play in a major.

"That's something I still continue to think about, even to this day," Woods said. "It was my last round that my dad ever watched me play. Knowing that going into it, if I could have given him one last shot, some positive memories before he goes, it would have been huge."

But it wasn't meant to be. Without his trademark steely focus, he made one bad putt after another Sunday afternoon. He three-putted twice in the final eight holes, and missed two other eagle putts. He finished three shots behind Phil Mickelson.

Woods took the next nine weeks off, first to be with, then to bury his father. He ended the longest break of his career at the U.S. Open, but it was quickly evident he still wasn't himself. For the first time in 10 years as a professional, he missed a cut at a major, shooting 76-76.

"It took me longer than I thought to cope with it," Woods said of his father's death. "I've never gone through anything like that."

His next outing was the Western Open, one of his favorite tournaments at a course perfectly suited for his game. But an opening-round 72 left him flirting with the cut line again. He shot a 67 the next day, the first of 17 straight rounds under par. He wound up second at the Western, then won his next six starts.

"If you take into account what happened off the golf course, it's my worst year," Woods said this fall. "People asked me ... 'How do you consider the year?' I consider it as a loss.

"In the grand scheme of things, golf doesn't even compare to losing a parent."