The last hope of professional golfers who have to compete against arguably the best player who ever lived was that fatherhood would take the edge off Tiger Woods’ game. As Woods cuddled his brand-new baby daughter, Sam, after winning the PGA Championship on Aug. 12, those hopes evaporated.
“I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life,” Woods told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview Tuesday. “I’ve got a wonderful balance on the golf course and off the golf course.”
It’s the polar opposite of last year, when Woods lost his father and lifelong coach to cancer. Earl Woods had fostered Tiger’s passion for golf as a child and, as Tiger grew up, became his best friend and closest confidant.
“Last year was a very trying year,” he admitted to Lauer.
Those looking for a vulnerability in Woods’ game thought they saw it this year. With his wife, Elin, pregnant with their first child, Woods failed to win any of the first three majors this year — the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. But he came roaring back to win the year’s final major, the PGA Championship. It was his thirteenth major, putting him five short of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.
Woods is 31 years old and, Lauer observed, looks muscular enough to be mistaken for one of his bodyguards. “Your whole body has changed,” Lauer said, asking if he’d been working out.
“No, I just got fat,” Woods joked before admitting to adding from 7 to 10 pounds to his athletic frame over the past few years.
“Is that about preventing injuries?” asked Lauer.
“The thing is to be consistent each and every day,” Woods said. “Over time, I’ve just kind of naturally filled out. I’m 31 now. I’m right around that time when my metabolism slows down.”
Career, personal life flying high
He’s also around the time when his golf-related business speeds up.
After concentrating for a decade on playing golf and collecting endorsement income, he started his own golf course design firm last year and entered into a reported $25-million contract to build his first course in Dubai.
This year, he’s reportedly agreed to take on his first U.S. project for Cliffs Communities at a development near Asheville, N.C.
He’s also got a new edition of his video game out, “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08,” which he demonstrated for the TODAY show.
The game allows players to use digital images of themselves to create lifelike avatars. Lauer’s came complete with a bare patch on the top of his head.
“That’s not a bald spot,” Woods teased. “That’s a divot.”
Helping to design the game has been an enjoyable challenge, Woods said. “As a player you want to make the game as realistic as possible. As technology’s changed and evolved, we’re able to make that happen.”
One thing that doesn’t change is Woods’ pursuit of Nicklaus’ record for major victories. He’s been criticized for not playing enough regular tournaments during the year. Last week, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem expressed his disappointment that Woods chose to skip the Barclays at Westchester Country Club tour stop, the first of the PGA’s new four-tournament FedEx Championship series.
“You can’t play each and every event,” Woods said. “You’d like to, but you really can’t. My whole idea is to be 100 percent committed to each and every tournament I play in, to be able to give everything I have to be able to win that event.”
And, while the week-to-week tournament schedule drives the tour, the four majors played each year drive Woods, whose career goal is to surpass Nicklaus’ record.
“You can win all the tournaments you want, but the majors are what you’re remembered for,” he said. “It’s how you’re measured as a champion in our sport. The majors are where it’s at.”
So what’s more difficult, Lauer asked, a must-make shot on the golf course, or changing a dirty diaper without any spills?
“Number two,” Woods laughed. “Literally.”