Score Woods' Open as one big bogey

The Baltimore Sun

BETHESDA-- --Tiger Woods wasn't entertaining hypothetical scenarios, but that doesn't mean that you can't. What do you suppose would happen if your pregnant wife were hospitalized and, rather than joining her, you chose to instead play golf?

Chances are, she'd call your mother to complain, scream at least six of George Carlin's seven dirty words, throw every hand-held appliance toward the vicinity of your head, and then, if you're still breathing, move most of your belongings to the curb.

OK, for Woods, the proposition isn't a hypothetical at all; it's exactly what happened three weeks ago at the U.S. Open, though no one knew it until Woods let the news slip earlier this week, dropping a bombshell with the force of a cotton ball midway through a news conference.

The delivery was typical of Tiger, who guards his privacy and reveals his true self exclusively through vague hints and subtle suggestions. Also typical of Tiger, he didn't share many details surrounding his daughter's birth, so what we're left with is a very curious scenario and one giant question mark that most seem content to overlook.

I don't pose this question because I know the answer, rather because it deserves to be asked: Is it right to leave your pregnant wife in a hospital room for four days while you instead compete in a golf tournament?

And, while we're at it, should we really be applauding Tiger's will to "focus" and "persevere" through the U.S. Open with such a heavy distraction weighing on his mind? Excuse me if all I can offer is the world's softest golf clap.

It's foolish to pass judgment without knowing all the facts, of course, but let's review what we do know:

Woods' wife, Elin, was admitted to Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, an Orlando, Fla., facility named for Arnold Palmer's late wife, on Thursday, June 14, the same day as the first round of the U.S. Open. Woods said Elin was experiencing "complications" with the pregnancy, though nothing life-threatening.

Rather than return immediately to Orlando, Woods stayed in Oakmont, Pa., and played the final three days of the U.S. Open, eventually losing by a single stroke to Angel Cabrera. His wife was hospitalized the entire time. Woods said both Elin and her doctor urged him to play.

"It wasn't easy," he said. "It was not easy because I wanted to be there. And the doctor and Elin said, 'There's nothing you can do, so go out there and just get a W.'"

What would you do? What would your wife want? What would your doctor recommend? They're personal questions that only allow for personal answers.

Thankfully, for Woods and his wife, everything worked out OK. He took a private jet to Orlando immediately after the tournament, and Elin gave birth to Sam Alexis the following day, reportedly by Caesarean section.

I'm guessing most wives wouldn't be so lenient, and most husbands wouldn't choose to remain on an out-of-town business trip knowing what was happening back home.

What I do know is that whatever we make of Woods' decision to remain in the U.S. Open says an awful lot about priorities. How could the tournament have been that important?

Everything Woods said leading up to and since his daughter's birth indicates that he understands golf will now take a back seat. So why didn't it that week? He didn't need the money. He didn't need another major. And he'll surely play in 20 more U.S. Opens before he hangs up his spikes.

You can't help but think back to the 1999 U.S. Open, when another of the sport's superstars was expecting his first child. Phil Mickelson's wife, Amy, due any day, stayed in Arizona while Mickelson competed in Pinehurst, N.C. He had a pager in his golf bag and said repeatedly that as soon as it went off, he was dropping the club and boarding a plane. Didn't matter if it was the first tee Thursday or the 18th green Sunday.

Like Woods three weeks ago, Mickelson finished that Open in second, one stroke off the lead. If he happened to have a share of the lead, Mickelson said he would've skipped out on the playoff if that pager started buzzing. What would Woods have done? Even after his baby was born, he still wouldn't say what should be obvious: You go be with your wife.

"I'm not going down that road," Woods said when asked about the possibility of a playoff at Oakmont.

Woods comes from loving parents and has great family support and so it feels like a pretty safe bet that Sam Alexis Woods will grow up with a good father around her. But let's please avoid falling into the trap of mythicizing Woods' 2007 U.S. Open performance, glorifying the greatest golfer in the world for nearly winning despite the burdensome knowledge that his wife was nearly 1,000 miles away in a hospital room.

Woods was asked earlier this week how he was able to maintain his intense focus at Oakmont, knowing what was happening down in Orlando.

"You just do," he said. "You just do. You just do."

Unless, of course, you don't.

Just two days before Elin was admitted into the hospital, Woods told reporters, "All I know is that Elin and I are excited, and that this is far more important than any game of golf."

The safe guess is that when Woods finally did join his wife in her hospital room, that undeniable truth was more evident than ever before.

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