"Hey Tiger, with your schedule, do you have time for a love life?" someone called out from the audience. There was a split second of silence, a slight ripple of tension. "Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do," Woods said, turning his back and taking a lazy practice-swing with his 8-iron.
Otherwise, he was open and relaxed, explaining and demonstrating his swing techniques and his approach to the game. He made eye contact. He smiled. He laughed. He took requests to show off specialty shots. Contrary to his on-course demeanor, he was completely at ease and at one with the crowd. And he even admitted that despite striking fear into the hearts of competitors, he also feels the fear. "Am I nervous before a tournament?" he said. "You bet. The day I'm not nervous is the day I'm retired."
Even religion came up. Woods is half Thai, and more than 90% of Thais are Buddhist. His mother, Kultida, who was born in Thailand, has often spoke of how Buddhist meditation has helped keep Tiger calm on the course. So one young golfer asked: "Tiger, do you meditate?" "No, that's boring," Woods shot back with a smile, eliciting laughter from the crowd. "I used to meditate a lot more, and I still do when I need to. And yes, I am a Buddhist."
Tiger even uses a slightly Zen technique when pressure is mounting and he's waiting to take a crucial shot. "Sometimes I'll just take my glove off and feel each little seam inside, just focusing on that. It helps take my mind away from the situation. When you're standing over a shot it can be pretty tense. I don't need to be feeling that except at that moment."
Tiger even obliged the crowd by taking a stab at one of his famous trick shots -- the baseball swing he used in a Nike commercial. "When I tried to do this for fans at the British Open, I whiffed every time. I'm determined not to whiff for you today," Woods said. Then he began bouncing a ball on the face of his sand wedge, three, four, five times, flipped it up high, and took a ferocious Mark McGwire rip as the ball came down.
Strike one! There was laughter from the crowd, and Woods, who simply picked the ball up and began again. Bounce, bounce, bounce, flip it up high, cock the club and BANG! The result: a long fly ball over the water and into the parking lot as the crowd cheered and clapped. Just to prove it wasn't a fluke, Tiger picked up another ball and smacked it even further. Then he broke out in a smile, waved goodbye, jumped into his chauffeured limousine and sped off as youngsters and adults alike chased after him.
As he headed back to his hotel to rest and prepare for the final two days of the tournament, Woods was leading the field by one stroke. But for those who were lucky enough to be there on the fourth hole on Friday afternoon, it doesn't matter if Tiger finishes first this weekend or not. This Woods was already a winner.
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