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Impact player

On and off the course, Woods has accomplished plenty

NORTON -- Years earlier, Al Hayes had sensed the magic. He knew golf -- he'd caddied for Gene Sarazen, for goodness sakes -- and he knew what he was watching that summer day in 1992 was like nothing he had ever seen.

It didn't matter that the kid swinging the golf club was 16 years old, Hayes was speechless.

Fourteen years later, Hayes isn't speechless, but he gets choked up when he chooses his words.

``I've played golf for years and years and years, and I never thought I'd live to see someone as impressive as this man with the golf club," said Hayes, an 84-year-old treasure with a keen mind and a spirit that overflows. Walking does not come as easily as it did when he caddied and played the game he loved, but Hayes did his best to walk as many holes as he could at TPC Boston during yesterday's pro-am, the chance too good to pass up to once again see that golfer who had mesmerized him years earlier.

Tiger Woods.

The tee time was 7 a.m., which meant a wake-up call in the middle of the night -- or so it seemed, it was so dark out -- but this was a day Hayes wasn't going to miss. Woods is that special. The fact that Hayes's pride and joy, his grandson, Ellis Jones, was going to be a caddie in the group made it even more special.

Jones was 6 years old in 1992 when his grandfather took him to Franklin Park for a golf clinic featuring Woods. The phenom from Cypress, Calif., was in town for the US Junior Amateur at Wollaston Golf Club in Milton (he would successfully defend his title) and if the clinic was intended to inspire young inner-city youths, then consider it a smashing success, so far as Hayes and Jones are concerned.

``Ellis had been playing golf," said Hayes, who has been a fixture at Franklin Park for decades. ``But when he watched Tiger that day, he said to me, `I want to play like him.' That's what he said to me."

Yes, Ellis Jones still plays the game, though basketball is his favorite. And, no, he has never played golf quite like Tiger Woods, which is OK, because no one else has, either.

``No one," said Hayes.

Playing for second
There is a field of 156 players who'll tee it up in Round 1 of the fourth annual Deutsche Bank Championship, a $5.5 million event that gets under way at 6:50 this morning. You'd be right to say that there are a multitude of stories, given the depth of the field, but you'd be even more right if you said the Woods saga shines brightest, for always a story line blankets him.

This week, he shoots for his fifth straight win, which puts him in position to do something he routinely does -- rewrite history. Only three players in the history of the PGA Tour have won five straight -- Byron Nelson, who won 11 in a row in 1945; Ben Hogan, who nailed six in 1948; and Woods, who triumphed six straight, four at the end of 1999, two straight to start 2000.

Been there, done that? Woods doesn't subscribe to such silliness.

``This is a little bit different [than the 1999-2000 streak]," said Woods. ``I'm still midway through the season."

A season, it should be noted, that is once again making his competitors step back, in awe and seemingly on the brink of helplessness.

``I look at you and say, `Hey, is he at that point he was in 2000?' " said Billy Andrade. ``Yes. Is everyone playing for second? Well, we're not going to concede it, but he sure as hell finishes the deal better than we do."

Not a whisper of dissent could possibly be uttered by the membership of the PGA Tour, not after Woods has piled up six wins in 13 starts this season and compiled numbers in this four-tournament winning streak that are head-shaking stuff: 16 rounds, 15 of the subpar variety, and a whopping 70 under par.

Repeat: 70 under par.

``It's just mind-boggling to shoot that low," said Andrade.

All of the praise and all of the historic stuff is thrown at him, but Woods merely shrugs. He talks of swing changes he made that resulted in a season, 1998, that produced just one win. There were more swing changes made and at one point from 2002-04 he went -- are you ready for this? -- 10 major championships without a victory.

The sky was falling, or so said the critics. Woods shook his head, picked out a new swing coach, Hank Haney, and set up shop on the range. What came out of all the sweat and blisters was something that carries him on those days when the swing isn't quite as in synch as he'd like.

``I think I have a better understanding of how to get more out of my round now," he said. ``I'm understanding my mechanics a little bit more, too."

Somewhere, Jeff Hart is probably chuckling, because from what he saw 10 years ago, the kid from Cypress had a pretty firm grip of things just the way they were. Hart was the journeyman who got thrown into a glaring spotlight Aug. 29, 1996. Woods had turned pro two days earlier and Hart was one of the playing competitors.

``I had played with a lot of top players and never did I think any of them were that far ahead of me," said Hart, who is on the Nationwide Tour these days. ``But with him? He hit 5-irons 225 yards in the air and made them stop softly. I hadn't seen that before."

The opening tee shot. That is all it took for Hart to know a new era had dawned.

``The first hole at Brown Deer Park [at the Greater Milwaukee Open] is a tight par 4 and Tiger takes out driver and slams it 330 yards, right down the middle."

Woods had been introduced as being from Windermere, Fla., and Hart was curious.

``I knew he was from California, so walking off the first tee I asked him why he moved to Florida. He looked at me and said, `Taxes.' "

Indeed, the young man was not yet 21, but he was in possession of a greater grasp of things. Hart knew that right away.

Hayes had sensed the same thing four years earlier.

A profound effect
If at first the color of Woods's skin was the inspiration to go watch the clinic back in 1992, it no longer is the main ingredient to Hayes's admiration. An African-American, Hayes looks beyond that. It's not even Woods's sensational golf that is the drawing card.

``It's the way he carries himself," said Hayes. ``He's a gentleman. He's a role model. I can only hope and pray that my grandson follows his footsteps -- as a person."

Hayes said he has forever loved sports, but it has hurt him to read about so many athletes who have had the talent, but not the respect of life, and not the willingness to give back. ``Woods gives," said Hayes. ``Look at his foundation and what he gives to that."

The Tiger Woods Foundation, like the player's pro career, is also celebrating a 10-year anniversary and if people are looking for products of the ``Tiger Effect" that has been talked about, they only had to peer out at the young man walking along with that first pro-am pairing at TPC Boston. Jones caddied for Wes Edens, but surely the amateur would not be offended to find out that Woods is the reason the Elms College student was there. A sophomore, Jones dreams of owning his own business someday, and what could make that happen is the Tiger Woods Scholarship that he received through the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund.

His grandfather had introduced him to the game -- the joy of playing, the dignity of working it as a caddie -- and Jones couldn't think of a more perfect setting than what he had yesterday morning. As the four amateurs and their caddies mingled with Woods and his caddie, Steve Williams, Jones told the game's greatest player his story, of the inspiration he drew from that 1992 clinic and the financial support he had gotten from the scholarship that bore Woods's name.

The man has won accolades in all corners of the world and major championships on two continents, but this was validation of another sort.

``Things have been good, if that's the case," said Woods. ``If you can have an impact on someone and he chooses to participate in the game because of that, that's special. He told me the whole story. It's pretty exciting."

Woods's 10-year anniversary on the PGA Tour has prompted an endless stretch of stories that have tried to put it all in perspective. There still aren't African-Americans teeing it up on a weekly basis, is one point that is often raised, and no one can dispute that. But others see Woods's impact in a different manner. Some, like Jones, take the golf out of the equation.

``It's not even the color of his skin," said Jones. ``It's just the type of person he is."

Was Woods important to him? Jones was asked. He nodded.

``He sets an example for me, that I can live by and base my life upon," said Jones. ``And I can take some of his values, and what he did, into my own life, and have them carry on."

The round had lasted 5 1/2 hours, much of it lighthearted, the laughs and smiles plentiful. Woods, of course, had displayed enough of his magic to make everyone speechless at times, like the approach into the 14th green that nestled in so tight to the hole that Williams didn't have to hand off the putter. Woods tapped it in with a wedge.

Four holes later, Jones stood in the 18th fairway and accepted Woods's autograph, the signature applied to the hat.

The impact to the spirit had been applied years earlier.

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