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A Tiger story worth retelling

I AM an unabashed Tiger Woods fan.  Everybody knows that, including my childhood friend Mike S. Ramos.  (Please pray for Pareng Mike, who is at Medical City’s ICU battling diabetes and pneumonia.)

 My love for Woods started when he was, I guess, still 8 years old.  He was playing in the World Juniors in San Diego, California, while I was having beer with his Dad at the clubhouse of Presidio Hills—not to mention I was covering the event as well.

 In the last round of that tournament, the Colonel, as Tiger’s Dad was called (may his soul rest in peace), and I stopped our beer-guzzling to watch an unfolding drama.

 Our very own Martin Valdes (his Dad, Gabby, is a dear friend of mine) was leading the tournament for 10-and-under boys.

 That was not surprising. Before Martin, we’ve produced world junior golf champions, like Carito Villaroman, Ramon Brobio and even Millette Villaroman, Carito’s younger sis who now coaches our national ladies team.  Filipinos have become big shots in the yearly event since 1978, or thereabouts.

 It was no surprise then that Martin was pacing the field.  He ought to win since he was leading from Day One.  This was Day Three, the last round.

 But then, there was this kid from nearby Cypress, California, touted as the boy to beat.

 “Would you mind if I suggest we watch the last few holes of my boy’s round?” said the Colonel, a Green Beret in the ’70s Vietnam War.

 “Of course, not, Sir,” I said.

 Since beer bottles are banned on the fairways—just right—we poured our beer into paper cups and proceeded to the battleground.

 We caught Martin and Tiger stepping out of the 17th green—with Martin holding a one-shot lead as they headed to the 18th tee.

 Martin hit first and, nerves perhaps gnawing at the tot not yet 10, had an errant tee shot.

 Tiger seized the moment.  After a perfect drive, he planted his approach to within birdie distance.

 Meanwhile, Martin missed the green and, his composure now in tatters, would succumb to double bogey.

 With his putt that hit dead center, Woods made birdie to defeat Martin by one.

 In the awarding, Martin, in a typical kid outburst, refused to join the podium ceremony, crying inconsolably while insisting he should have been the winner and wanted the champion’s trophy no less.

 Gabby took the silver trophy on behalf of his son, shook Tiger’s fragile hand and then told the Colonel, “Sir, your son would become a great champion.”

 Not long after, Martin, in a bizarre twist while wanting to totally erase the memory of his defeat, quit golf.  Completely.

 It tugs at the heart so that this tear-shedding story, I just can’t stop myself from telling it to anyone willing to listen.

 And look how destiny could sometime play cruel jokes on us, mere mortals.

 Years later, Martin, now working at Florida Disneyland, would find Tiger as his next-door neighbor in Orlando’s plush, gated village.

 Quickly, Martin sold his house and moved to another village.

 Last I heard, Martin is back in town.  Sometimes, I can see his by-line in a national newspaper that I used to write for.  

 As for Tiger, well, some 20 years or so later after dealing Martin that traumatic loss, he would have a collection of nearly 10 majors.  In 2009, Tiger had 14, four short of the record 18 majors of Jack Nicklaus.

 Today, Tiger goes into the last round of the WGC-Bridgestone trailing solo leader Sergio Garcia by 15 shots and, from the looks of it, the crown he had won last year for the eighth time would change hands—if not heads—by sunrise (PHL time).

 I understand.

 Tiger is just into his 10th competitive round since emerging from a five-month layoff as a result of his back surgery on March 31.  In short, he is, at 38, a work in progress. Again.  We’ll see how he fares this week when the PGA, the year’s fourth and last major, is played starting Friday (PHL time).

 Me, suddenly, as from an ardent Tiger Fan to merely a Tiger Watcher?  Sort of, but not exactly.

           *   *   * 

 ALL IN    Despite rains the past few days, organizers said last night the Aboitiz Media Invitational would push through today. Riviera’s handsome Couples in Silang, Cavite, is an all-weather course, anyways, they said.  But are all the media men invited all-weather, too?  Well, duffers that they are mostly, media men are just that—all-weather.  Fore!

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