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Earl Woods not surprised by Tiger

By Mark Whicker

The Orange County Register

(KRT)

AUGUSTA, Ga. - He sat in front a small monitor, next to the putting green, and his round, impassive face softened with every shot he saw.

"Eighteen-under," Earl Woods murmured to himself, as a security guard and a CBS technician flanked him.

Slowly, spectators and media members came over to see Tiger's father, the first architect of the golfing monolith that won the Masters tournament by a record 12 strokes.

Behind them, 17-year-old Gentry Ming, a military brat like Tiger, stood impatiently.

"Ask him (Earl) if Tiger has a girlfriend," she kept saying. "Ask him."

Earl kept his eyes on the tube. When Tiger rolled in a tough par putt on 16, Earl grinned and applauded.

"Three-under-par on a (windy) day like this? That's gorgeous," Earl said.

He was in a hospital recovering from heart by-pass surgery less than two months ago. He did not accompany Tiger on the Florida tour, hoarding his strength until this week. Even then, he did not walk the fairways as usual.

When he encountered PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem at the clubhouse Wednesday, Earl informed him Tiger was going to win.

"And he looked at me like I was crazy," Earl said.

Now Tiger played the 17th hole as Hughes Norton, Tiger's point man from the IMG agency, huddled with Earl. A security guard volunteered to get Earl a sweater in the windy dusk.

"I have good days and bad days (physically)," Earl said. "My range of motion is getting better. But it's a long, slow process."

Tiger walked to the 17th fairway as Earl prepared to walk through the crowd at the 18th green.

He was asked about all the records that Tiger brushed away in four quick days.

"I don't think he cares about the records," he said. "What's important is that he survives and finishes.

"On another course today, he might have used a different strategy with a nine-shot lead. He might have used 1-irons off the tee and gone for accuracy instead of as much distance. But here, he stayed with the same game plan as always.

"He doesn't worry about the margin or the scoreboard. He plays the course. The course is not going to give you anything, especially this one. You have to steal it from the course, and that's what Tiger did every chance he got."

Now it was time to go. Tiger was walking up his 72nd fairway, a worldwide legend in his 21st year. Earl got up with Norton and went to the finish line. But Gentry Ming still didn't have her answer.

(c) 1997, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).

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