Fatherhood? A chip shot for Tiger Woods

Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Tiger Woods takes on a new challenge in 2007. Fatherhood. "The Cub" is expected in late June or early July, as both golf and summer weather sizzle, a potential source of daddy anxiety involving the U.S. Open and/or British Open.

His calendar gains complexity.

Jack Nicklaus dominated the sport for a generation, maintaining shatter-proof focus while winning a record 18 major championships, as Barbara and the Bear dealt beautifully with a big family of challenges, raising four children.

Tiger's time.

At 31, Woods has won 12 majors. He is more golf-gifted than were Hogan, Jones, Nelson, Palmer, Sarazen, Player or Nicklaus. Tiger should surpass Jack as the king of majors by age 36 or 37.

Until now, unlike the game's bygone greats, Woods has not been exposed to the delicate, sometimes sticky demands of being a papa. A far different quest than developing a more flaw-free golf swing or taking some mega financial leap — like his new $150-million Nike deal — en route to becoming the world's first billionaire athlete.

No matter how famous, or how rich, even with jets and mansions and yachts, the needs of parenting can be as agonizing as they are captivating. Woods gained wisdom and dandy traits from daddy Earl and mom Kultida. Tiger is fortified with toughness, reality, persistence, judgment and desire.

We'll see about patience.

Being a pop is seldom a lock. I think Woods the golfer will glide past Nicklaus, winning a 19th major and perhaps a half-dozen more. I would also bet on Tiger being a warm, efficient but demanding father. Passing along Earl/Kultida qualities, enhancing the package with self-accrued knowledge from No. 1's already incredible life.

Betcha that Woods will be a disciplinarian, offering his child enormous and multifaceted opportunities, while being willing to dispense tough love. Betcha the Stanford fellow pushes Kid One to be academically stout.

Elin and Tiger are heavy with assets, she being an ex-nanny, but the Woods clan would be wise to study the Nicklaus bunch, learning loads from a remarkable golf-prodigious family that has been graced by so much joy and accomplishment, including 19 grandchildren.

Difference is, Elin and Tiger live in a far more protective environment, much of it necessary amid today's volatile demeanors, never mixing with the masses as did Barb and Jack in a far less threatening time. Mama Bear forever walked alongside fairways Jack was playing, conversing sans souci with almost anyone who approached. Elin and Tiger can't do that any more than can Brad and Angelina.

Too bad. Our loss, and theirs.

Golf's new year, even beyond Baby Woods, promises abundant changes, with the PGA Tour (1) christening a money-loaded season climax called the FedEx Cup; and (2) executing a wise move from March to May for the Players Championship that should hoist the TPC/Sawgrass happening closer to being the "fifth major." We now have the Masters in April, Players in May, U.S. Open in June, British Open in July and PGA Championship in August.

Some characterize the FedEx Cup as the "NASCARization" of golf, with tournaments from January through mid-August involving a point system to qualify the top 70 guys for four high-dollar "playoff" events at summer's end, with the No.1 overall dude receiving $10-million.

Golf has forever lost steam — for its stars as well as the public — after the PGA Championship in mid-August. A majority of big names have semi-snoozed from September through New Year's. Tour commissioner Tim Finchem now reaches into the sky to snag a fortune from FedEx, underwriting the cup extravaganza.

Idea is to keep interest perking among Woods, Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and other marquee hotties, dangling a total FedEx purse of $35-million that offers $3-million for second place, $2-million for third, $1.5-million for fourth and $1-million for the fifth spot.

Not a bad month's pay.

While it does sound a bit like stock car racing's vastly successful Nextel Cup, the year-long effect on golf's celebrity players will not be nearly as filling. Every week, in NASCAR burgs from Daytona to Dover to Chicagoland, all the aces show up including Junior Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and '06 leader Jimmie Johnson. Golf will never be that way.

Most stops on the PGA Tour from January until mid-August will offer 25,000 FedEx points with 4,500 to the winners. Four major championships, as well as the Players (oh yeah, we're setting a tone here, making it a High Five), will be good for 27,500 points with 4,950 going to the champion's account.

But we won't be seeing much more of Tiger. This isn't NASCAR and he's not Earnhardt. Woods is skipping this year's first three tournaments, knowing he is highly likely — even if bypassing roughly half the tour's 35 events prior to the "FedEx Four" — to qualify for the $35-million party.

FedEx Cup qualifying will run one week beyond the PGA Championship, through the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. Then comes the grand stab, a month of FedEx tournaments in suburban New York, suburban Boston, suburban Chicago and the last one at East Lake, the old Bob Jones course, in Atlanta.

It's a year for golf babes.

Contact columnist Hubert Mizell at mizell3@cox.net.

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