Woods prepares to return to competition at U.S. Open

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

ROLAND, Ark. -- Tiger Woods is preparing to play in the U.S. Open.

Woods was at the Alotian Club outside of Little Rock on Tuesday, making his first public golf-related appearance since the Masters. His father, Earl, died May 3, and Woods hasn't played since he tied for third at Augusta National on April 9.

But he played a round at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y., on Saturday, an indication he will be back there June 15 through 18 for the U.S. Open. Woods was in Arkansas for a clinic coinciding with the inaugural Jackson T. Stephens Charitable Golf Tournament, and he put on a demonstration for a few dozen children from Stephens-supported charities.

When asked by a member of the crowd how he would prepare for the U.S. Open, Woods said he had plenty of practicing to do.

"Obviously, you have to drive the ball great at U.S. Opens. You can't win a U.S. Open driving the ball poorly," Woods said. "Work on my driving and really work on my irons, distance control."

Woods spoke of his father a few times while addressing the crowd, including at the end, when he was asked what advice he had for his young fans.

"I think the greatest advice is to care and share," Woods said. "My dad was so adamant about that line. He said if you care about something, you'll share it. And if you love life, you'll share life. I love kids and I'll share with them whatever I have."

The Arkansas tournament, which was Monday and Tuesday, is named after Jack Stephens, the late billionaire, philanthropist and former chief executive officer of Stephens Inc. Stephens was chairman of Augusta National in 1997, when Woods won the Masters there for his first major championship.

The children at the clinic were seated on a small incline behind Woods as he hit. At the start, Woods said other spectators seated in chairs further back could move closer if they wanted. Afterward, he posed for pictures with the kids.

"Tiger's not at all what I thought he would be," said Hayley Carter, 15, of Greenwood. "I pictured him as being quiet and off to himself, but he was a lot different."

Woods stressed early on that he wanted the event to be interactive and turned around often for questions from the audience, although he didn't talk to reporters afterward. He flashed his usual bright smile throughout despite having to stop several times because of a nagging cough.

"I know he doesn't feel well, but unless somebody told you, I don't think you'd know it," said Warren Stephens, Jack Stephens' son.

Warren Stephens took over the microphone to thank Woods after the demonstration, although the audience was a bit distracted. In the background, Woods was doing one of his most famous tricks, juggling a ball on the face of his club, then hitting it out of the air with one hand.

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