His injury-forced hiatus from competition seems to have loosened up Tiger Woods. In an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Jenna Wolfe that was positively playful compared to his usual closely guarded style, the world’s greatest golfer revealed how he’s filling his time away from the links.
While rehabbing following reconstructive surgery on his left knee, Woods said, his biggest joy is unencumbered time with his 15-month old daughter Sam, by his wife of four years, former Swedish model Elin Nordegren. The couple has even made a game of the most drudging of parental tasks, playing what Tiger calls “Diaper bingo.”
Woods explained the simple rules of his new sport: “Basically, if she goes, you got it. Whoever picks her up, go!”
All hail the king
Woods was a baby himself when, spurred by his late father, Earl, he first picked up a golf club at the age of 6 months. Now, still only 32, he is well on his way to becoming the undisputed all-time king of his sport.
In just 12 years as a pro, he’s won 14 of golf’s major tournaments (only Jack Nicklaus, with 18 major wins, has won more, and it took him 25 years). And Woods is well on his way to becoming the first professional athlete to earn a billion dollars in a career — he earned $122 million in 2007 alone.
All told, Woods has won 65 PGA tour events, third all time, and has been named PGA Player of the Year a record nine times. Even while out of action with an injury, he is still the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer, and has remained so for the past 174 weeks.
But taking time out from his already legendary career has been a blessing Woods hadn’t counted on when he had to put his game on ice following his June surgery.
“This is the longest break I ever had,” Woods told Wolfe. “It actually feels good. It’s been good to get away, spend time with my family; watching Sam grow up and really work on some of the business side of things.”
Taking care of business
While Woods waits for a clean bill of health to allow him to get back on the course in January, he’s staying involved in the game by designing a golf course to be built near Ensenada, Mexico. It’s the third course he’s designed, and clearly a labor of love.
“It’s been something I always wanted to do as a kid,” he told Wolfe. “I always wanted to create something people will enjoy and will come back and want to appreciate again. That’s my goal, and hopefully I can deliver that.”
“It’s been so much fun to see her grow and change on a daily basis,” Woods said. “She’s daddy’s girl, it’s just so cool.” And, he revealed, he’s already teaching her to play daddy’s game: golf.
“I never truly understood unconditional love until Sam was born,” Woods added. “It’s just a totally different love. I understand how my parents felt and why I used to make my dad crazy or my mom go crazy now. I also understand the joy they used to get and how my mom gets when I accomplish things that are important to me. The same thing with Sam, it’s just a totally different feeling.”
No. 2 on the way
Woods will get a second dose of that joy late this spring; he and Elin are awaiting the birth of their second child. As with Elin’s first pregnancy, the couple hasn’t learned the sex of their child — not that they aren’t curious.
“We have that envelope, you know; they gave us the photo,” he told Wolfe. “We go look, not look, look, not look, so everyday it’s, ‘hmmm.’ ”
In the meantime, Woods is resigned to the fact he’s going to have more time away from the tournament circuit. But before he left, he gave his fans a tournament for the ages in last June’s U.S. Open, seeking out victory despite playing on one leg — he was suffering from a torn ligament and a double stress fracture in his left tibia at the time.
And he’s still a long way from being in playing shape today, he told Wolfe: “I’m not that itchy to get back, just because I would flat-out embarrass myself right now.” He added that he will only be about 85 percent of his former self when he begins playing again, and it could take up to two years before he’s back on top of his game.
“Most running backs (in football) or other athletes, the second year is when they come back,” he said. “Hopefully, that won’t be the case for me.”
A rare glimpse
Well-known for his measured responses in talking to the press, Woods allowed Wolfe a rare glimpse of his personal preferences. He told her the actor he would most like to see play him in a biopic is Will Smith, and that the TV show he TiVos is “South Park.” And while he won’t break his concentration by putting buds in his ears during tournament time, Woods says he will work out to “hip hop, rock, rap and 1980s music.”
But Woods returned into his more familiar guarded tone when Wolfe asked him whom he supports in the 2008 presidential race.
“One of the two, definitely,” he said, adding that publicly supporting a candidate “makes things a lot more complicated.”
Woods is well aware of his place in the pantheon of sports: What Babe Ruth is to baseball and Michael Jordan is to basketball, he will likely be to golf. He turned positively humble when discussing it with Wolfe, expressing gratitude that his iconic status has made the Tiger Woods Foundation possible.
“I’ve been very lucky and very fortunate to have had the success I’ve had,” he said. “The great thing about it is, it’s given me a platform to help kids with my foundation. If I didn’t have the success I’ve had on the golf course, I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I’m doing in this country, and now expanding into Asia.
“Success on the golf course has allowed me to help others. It’s been the greatest experience you could possibly have.”