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A tale of a Tiger who is caught



There is a character in Thomas Klise's 1974 novel "The Last Western" whose name is Willie. Born in New Mexico, he became a baseball pitcher with a supernatural pitch, and was of multi-racial origin. As he developed his athletic skills he quickly achieved perfection, which vaulted him into the limelight and superstardom. He was cynically manipulated by greedy sports owners and ultimately the public turned on him, bored by his perfection.;;Tida Woods, the mother of golf's new superstar, says that Tiger "has African, Chinese, Thai, American Indian, and European blood. He is the universal child." When she took Tiger's astrological charts to Buddhist monks in L.A. and Bangkok, they told Tida that her son has "wondrous powers." He, too, is being manipulated by the new greed embodied in Phil Knight and Nike, and that, too, could be his downfall.;;I was struck by the similarity as life seems to be imitating art.;;Who could go through the Masters' weekend without having sensed that the sport was passing through a historic moment both on and off the course? On the fabled fairways and greens of Augusta a 21-year-old golfer was redefining the game as played at this course of myth and legend.;;It was the largest margin of victory in the history of the Masters, the lowest score, the best middle 36 holes, the best opening and closing 54 holes, the most under par on the back nine-16, the most three's in a Masters-26, all combining to make Tiger Woods the youngest to win a Masters or, indeed, any of the majors.;;Because of the peculiarities of racial definition in America, where if you look black you are black, Woods also is the first black to win a Master's or any other major -- and on a course where, until six years ago, there were no black members. For many at Augusta National, it must have been a week in which the mint juleps lost some of their jolt, and the artificially colored water looked less blue. Some no doubt took the lack of dogwoods and azaleas at this tournament as a sign in this region where nature speaks to man in many manifestations. The blossoms came a bit early this spring, except in the case of Tiger Woods, who blossomed just at the right moment.;;His achievement seemed to take on added luster coming just two days before the 50th anniversary celebration of Jackie Robinson's entrance onto the stage of Major League Baseball. It was good to hear Woods speak of the significance of Robinson's effort for himself and all black athletes, and to hear him thank pioneering black golfers such as Charlie Sifford, who never was allowed to play Augusta. It was less encouraging that, on the advice of his agents at International Management Group, he chose not to accept the President's invitation to join in a Robinson tribute at Shea Stadium.;;The exploitation of Woods as an African-American hero by Nike is also unsavory. Is it realistic to suggest, as Nike's advertising does, that all children of color now have a new role model? What of those in the inner city, already targeted by the marketing of pro basketball? How will a young child from poverty -- white, black or Asian -- sustain a commitment to golf, with its courses in the suburbs and its equipment largely out of reach? Give any kid a ball and glove, a blacktop and a backboard, and they can compete; when the search is for a fairway, the stakes are much different.;;The suggestion locally that Woods should be given a parade, as well as the immediate corporate scramble to sponsor such an event, only adds to the fear that the Woods euphoria will not survive the commercial juggernaut. Tiger Woods maintains a house here for the same reason that many other athletes and entertainers do: Florida has no income tax. By leaving California, Woods is reported to have saved enough money in taxes to pay for the house here. This state is a haven for the rich, the Monaco of North America -- something hardly worthy of celebration.;;Finally, the comparison between Robinson's accomplishments and those of Woods is inappropriate. Robinson cracked a major racial barrier in a society which constantly made demands on his dignity as a human being. Neither the time nor the circumstances are the same.;;But there is one parallel: Woods, like Robinson, has an opportunity to break new ground, to become someone whom we would like to emulate, someone we would like our children to emulate -- if only he can survive the lure of agents, Nike, and the many others seeking to exploit his fame.

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