Tigers Masters Memories About Father

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods has memories at the Masters that have nothing to do with green jackets, blooming azaleas or spectacular chip-ins.
 
They're memories of hugs, tears, evenings spent together. Memories of a few well chosen words of support.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods takes in one final practice round Wednesday.
He talks about them only grudgingly because he would prefer they remain private. The questions come anyway because, after all, he is Tiger Woods.
 
His father is home in California, his body ravaged by cancer. Earl Woods is the toughest man his son knows, but even the tough old Green Beret isn't going to win this one.
 
Woods won't discuss the details. Would rather not talk about it publicly at all, if given the preference.
 
It's a family matter, and family matters most.
 
'Everyone who has had a family member or lived that long, you're going to deal with it sometime,' Woods said Tuesday. 'Unfortunately, it's our time right now.'
 
The timing couldn't be worse. Not because Woods is favored to win a fifth Masters, but because of what the annual spring week in Augusta has always meant to both father and his famous son.
 
This is where Tiger romped to his first major win as a 21-year-old, then tearfully embraced the man who helped make it possible as he walked off the 18th green. Earl Woods wasn't supposed to be here that year, wasn't supposed to be anywhere after barely making it through a difficult heart bypass surgery before the tournament.
 
He came, though, and gave his son a putting lesson that helped him win by 12 shots in a victory that was historic for far more than just the winning margin.
 
Earl Woods came last year, too, sharing time with his son and his son's new bride even though he was too ill to make it to the course. Woods won a playoff with Chris DiMarco, then rushed home to share it with his dad.
 
'Every year that I've been lucky enough to win this tournament, my dad's been there to give me a big hug. And today, he wasn't there,' Woods said then, his voice cracking and his eyes filling with tears. 'I can't wait to get home and see him, and give him a big bear hug.'
 
Earl Woods got that hug. He'll have to wait a little longer for another.
 
For the first time since Woods first played here as an amateur, his father won't be in Augusta. He was too ill to travel, so ill that Woods left after a practice round at the Player's Championship last month and flew to California to spend a few hours with him.
 
Woods surprised his father that day, who greeted his son by saying 'What the hell are you doing here?'
 
To Tiger, that was a good sign. It meant his father hadn't given up.
 
Earl Woods would have wanted his son to stay in Florida and focus on the task at hand. This was the man who taught Tiger concentration, gave him his competitiveness as he raised him from his high chair with a golf club in his hand.
 
This was the man who devoted his life to making his son the best.
 
'I knew Tiger was special the day he was born,' Earl Woods said a few years ago.
 
Earl Woods raised the greatest player in the game. Perhaps more important, he raised a son who loves him deeply.
 
The bond between father and son was evident in the few glimpses allowed the public. It runs a lot deeper in private, which makes it these times even harder.
 
'It's always been family first,' Woods said. 'For me, it's awfully tough. It's hard for my mom as well and everyone who knows my father.'
 
Woods played poorly at the Player's Championship, and sprayed the ball around in a practice round Tuesday. But it's not in his nature to use the distraction of his father's illness as an excuse, and he has won three times this year with the same things weighing on his mind.
 
He'll tee off Thursday as the favorite to win his fifth Masters in 10 tries as a professional. At this rate, Woods going to fulfill the prophecy of Jack Nicklaus, who predicted at the time of Tiger's first win that Woods would win more green jackets than the 10 that he and Arnold Palmer had combined.
 
Woods is already the greatest player of his time. In a few more years he'll likely be recognized as the greatest player ever.
 
But Woods has become more than just the dominant player his father raised him to be. He's a cultural icon, a player who transcends the game and a billionaire in the making.
 
Woods has a beautiful wife, and a beautiful life. His yacht cost $22 million, and his new Florida home even more.
 
Everything is done on his terms, from the way he prepares for majors to the way he jealously guards his private life. His recent '60 Minutes' profile revealed nothing, yet was so fawning it looked more like a Nike infomercial than a television feature.
 
But even Woods can't control everything.
 
He can't stop the hurt he feels away from the course. He can't stop the cancer that will someday take his father from him.
 
Earl Woods is only human.
 
So, it turns out, is his son.
 
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