Father Woods' biggest challenge

Tiger Woods in the lead is virtually unbeatable. He refuses to make mistakes.-AP

Finding time to practise in between changing nappies will not be a problem for Tiger Woods. His daughter Sam Alexis will not be a distraction but an inspiration, writes Rohit Brijnath.

So involved we are with athletes, so absurdly attentive to the minutia of their lives, that the most normal of human occurrences are peered at suspiciously.

Tiger Woods has had a daughter. Wonderful. But, it has also been asked, will this result in less sleep for him, less practice? Will the golfer's desire dim? As usual, overreaction is stalking him.

Incredible as it sounds, athletes do tend to have children. Mothers have won Olympic gold medals. Jack Nicklaus won every one of his 18 majors as a father. Mr. Woods with an approximate $90 million in earnings last year can afford a maid. Or two. Or seven. He'll find time to practise.

Tiger will grin. He has heard this before. Consistently we bestow the golfer with superhuman powers since we have seen him do things on a course that humans have not done before. His focus with golf club in hand has been described as rivalling a predator on the hunt. Yet at the same time we wondered if his career would stutter when he got married.

In one sense, we believe the dramas of ordinary life, marriage, fatherhood, a new boss (in Tiger's case, a new coach), will disrupt the athletes' existence because they disrupt ours. But Tiger does not operate on the same wavelength as us, but on a frequency of excellence most of us never arrive at.

He does not think like us. He does not even think like good players. Most people are coy about getting up to speak for 10 minutes at a school assembly. When he joined the US PGA Tour, Tiger was a boy (20), in what is truly a man's game; pros resented the fact that he had enormous sponsorship deals before he had won a single tournament; millions watched his first tournaments because he was considered the "chosen one". Yet his grip over his golf club and his mind rarely faltered.

Yes, Tiger Woods can handle having a baby. But people will keep looking and asking.

The modern athletic star (and this is apparent in India with cricketers) may be more pampered and wealthy than his predecessors, but he also faces a unique and constant invasion into his life. Although the athlete is not averse to media when it suits him (at his product launch he wants cameras), the growth of newspapers and TV channels has meant that the day's normal sports story is insufficient. It does not satiate the pack looking for something different. So personal life is poked into, non-issues debated, minor matters exploded out of proportion.

If the most minor detail in Tiger Woods' life is thus a drama, the smallest fluctuation in form also warrants an investigation. This is a more complicated business. Tiger expects to win, we expect him to win, yet he cannot always win. Losing for most athletes is a reality of sport; losing for athletes like Woods and Federer, who win with a frequency we have almost never seen before, is a different matter. These athletes always seem to be one tournament loss away from a slump.

Federer in his last four Grand Slams (Wimbledon '06, US '06, Australian '07, French '07) has gone win, win, win, final. And this is construed as incomplete; it is even said Federer has failed. Tiger Woods in his last four majors (and golf majors are harder to win than in tennis) has gone win (British Open '06), win (PGA Championship '06), second (Masters '07), second (US Open '07). Men could retire happy with such a record, except Tiger says: "My last four majors — Not terrible, but it could have been better".

After ending last year with two major wins, a golf magazine wrote in January that Tiger was better than ever before. After two second places in majors this year, it is being asked, what is wrong with Tiger? In one sense, achieving second place at the Masters and US Open this year was an extraordinary performance from a golfer clearly not at his best; in another sense it was disturbing that he had a chance to catch Zach Johnson (Masters) and Angel Cabrera (US Open) yet could not find his best when it mattered.

Federer and Tiger mostly defy the laws of sport with their consistency and also their adaptability. Whatever the course, the surface, the competition, they find a way to win. But there is always a hole in the record, an imperfection. With Federer it is the French Open, but this is understandable for the surface does not suit him entirely; Woods' flaw is inexplicable. He cannot win from behind in majors.

On the 12 occasions Woods has had the lead going into the final and fourth round of a major event, he has won it. On the 29 occasions Woods has not been in the lead in a major, even just a shot behind, he has failed to win.

The first statistic can be explained because great athletes are terrific bullies; once momentum and confidence is with them, they are virtually unbeatable, like Federer with a two-sets-to-love lead in a Slam. Tiger in the lead often plays like an accountant and refuses to make mistakes; those behind must take risks to catch up and thus make mistakes.

But Tiger's failure to come from behind defies logic. Once at least he should have succeeded? He plays great shots when it matters, why not from this position? If he understands winning better than anyone else, why can't he construct it from here? Is it merely a confirmation even he gets sweaty when defeat looms? Correcting this lopsided record is the real challenge that awaits Tiger Woods. He is at 12 majors, still six short of Jack Nicklaus' 18. It is a long way. Finding time to practise in between changing nappies will not be a problem. His daughter Sam Alexis will, you suspect, not be a distraction but an inspiration.