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Pro-am partners get rare glimpse of Tiger's world

NORTON - On so many days and in so many ways, it is his world. We are just along to watch.

Yesterday was just such a day, a sun-splashed gem that featured a vintage New England autumn-like morning that gave way to penetrating summer heat. Yet for nearly five hours there were hints of a hurricane of commotion, the eye of which was Tiger Woods.

"Obviously, I think he handles it all as well as anyone could," said Jerry Yang. "He's at ease with it. He knows what he wants to do and he's comfortable with who he is."

Yang had just walked 18 holes inside the rock-star world that is Woods's every time he's in public, though it's wilder and crazier and more persistent when a golf course is his stage. He had heard the screams for autographs, seen outstretched hands for high-fives, felt the rush of bodies to get in position for photographs. But mostly, Yang had witnessed as flawless a round of golf as imaginable, eight birdies and no bogeys adding up to a 63 for Woods in a Deutsche Bank Championship pro-am that didn't count but, oh, how it mattered.

"It is," said Yang, "a dream come true."

Mind you, Yang knows a thing or two about dreams coming true. Humbly, he merely said that he worked for Yahoo, but the truth is, he could be considered Mr. Yahoo - the CEO and co-founder of the Internet giant. He's the sort of man who finds his way onto those lists issued by Forbes magazine, yet finding his way into a pro-am group alongside Woods tickled his emotions.

"I've known him for years. I met him through friends. But it's the first time we've played together," said Yang, whose golf bag emblazoned with the word "Stanford" offered a connection between him and the world's best golfer. Yang earned BS and MS degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford; Woods earned fame and fortune after two years at the Palo Alto, Calif., campus convinced him he was ready to play pro golf.

Eleven years later, it's safe to say Woods owns the golf world, as much for the way in which he swings a club as he conducts himself. A second decade into the phenomenon, his presence continues to wow children, men, women - and CEOs.

The reason is simple, said Seth Waugh, who as the leader of Deutsche Bank is the visionary behind this $7 million tournament that gets under way today.

"The man, he's got a real soul," said Waugh.

The Woods connection to this Deutsche Bank Championship was forged at the very beginning, back in 2003, and it has been nurtured by two men who know how to grow into relationships. In Waugh, Woods sees a man committed to not only good golf, but good causes; in Woods, Waugh sees a remarkable growth.

"Every time I see him, I see more and more of his parents in him," said Waugh, who was with Woods Tuesday morning when they rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Later, there was a press conference and the first question was one that sort of jolted Waugh, but hardly ruffled Woods.

"He was asked about his life and what principals he lived by," said Waugh. "Tiger said, 'Every day I know I can get better. I can be a better person, a better husband, a better father, a better golfer. Every day, I wake up excited to know I can be better.' "

Like Yang, Waugh walks in circles that attract the wisest, the wealthiest, and the most successful people. Yet he marvels at Woods.

"The Zen answer? That's his mother [Kultida]. The grit-it-out answer? That's his father [Earl, who died in May 2006]," said Yang. "For 30 years old, I can't believe the depth to his answers."

That, of course, hits upon a sore subject with many in the media, for if there is a constant cry, it is that Woods is predictable in his press conference answers and overly protective. Waugh and Yang would perhaps shake their head at that, for they had just walked inside Woods's world and seen how it doesn't provide him any semblance of a hiding place.

"I tell you," Waugh said again, "he's got soul."

Many flashes of it had come out during a round in which Woods was at ease and in great spirits. It had been 19 days since Woods had last been seen swinging a golf club, that insufferably hot day at Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, Okla., when he had won his 13th major championship, his second tournament in two weeks, and his fifth title of the year.

When he followed by taking two weeks off and skipping the first PGA Tour playoff, last week's Barclays, he got roundly criticized in the media. It comes with the territory, so Woods shrugged it off.

"If you're not ready to win, there's really no point in playing," he said. "That's how I've always played."

He didn't ask for any player support, but he got it from none other than Jack Nicklaus.

"It takes a lot more out of you when you win than when you finish 25th," said the game's most celebrated major champion. "I would have done the same thing."

Nicklaus said his goal was "to always be as fresh at the end of the season as I was at the beginning," and while Woods wasn't suggesting he has succeeded at that mission, he certainly looked the part alongside Waugh, Yang, and two other amateurs, Brian Cohn and Tony DiNovi.

Smiles were plentiful, great shots even more so, and the give-and-take with his group members and patrons was there.

At the par-3 third, for instance, DiNovi's tee shot made it onto the green and that fact thrilled his friends in the gallery.

"Tiger," yelled one of them, "even money he takes you on this hole."

Standing to the side, Woods hung his head and laughed. He bent over to tie his golf shoe, paused, looked up in the direction of the voice, and said: "How much?"

Laughs all around, but minutes later Woods showed why it is never wise to bet against him. DiNovi two-putted from 25 feet for his par; Woods was center-cut with a sliding 10-footer. It was one of his eight birdies on a day when the weather was perfect and so, too, was his golf.

His presence? It, too, was in vintage form, even as his imitation of the Pied Piper produced a capacity crowd in the closing holes. Guests of the pro-am partners, many of them young children, followed along, but Woods displayed the calmness with which he walks amid commotion that always frames his public world. The demands on his time are 10 and 20 and 30 times what his colleagues face, so as Woods moved toward yet another press conference, the surge of bodies that moved along with him had Waugh shaking his head.

"For five years I've gotten to know him much more as a person than a golfer," said Waugh, his time for this day inside Woods's world having ended. "The golfer we know is impressive. I'm telling you, so is the person."

Jim McCabe can be reached at jmccabe@globe.com.

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