The image of Tiger Woods as doting father will always be hard to reconcile for many, but not for the fellow professionals he has been with here in the grand Adare Manor clubhouse these last few days. The world No 1 has been proudly showing them the recording of his 15-month-old son's golf swing. And in Ian Poulter's verdict, "It's scary."
"Yeah, I saw his kid's swing on Tiger's mobile last night and I'm telling you that's what it is – scary," said the Englishman. "The grip, the swing, the rhythm... at 15 months old. It's unbelievable. I'd better hurry up and win a major. Because when he's 15 he'll probably have won at Augusta by 25 shots. I've probably only got 13 years left."
Perhaps, it was the need to check on Charlie's sweet motion why Woods rushed straight back to Orlando on his private jet yesterday afternoon after spending a little over 26 hours in Ireland at the JP McManus Pro-Am. But then, if the latest reports of an imminent divorce and access settlement are to be believed then there are plainly other factors. At his press conference yesterday he was asked about the frantic Ocean criss-crossing which will see him return to Scotland on the weekend. The curt exchange will inevitably be viewed as pertinent by the between-the-lines readers.
Question: What is your build-up to St Andrews?
Tiger: At home.
Q: Why not take the chance to play some links golf beforehand?
A: I need to get home.
Q: Why, personal stuff?
A: See my kids.
And as ever – well at least since his extraordinary mea culpa in Jacksonville in February – that was all the media got from Tiger. A little later he did admit that when it came to his home life "everything is working itself out". Yet this was anything but a man baring his soul. Bearing his audience, maybe.
Of course, many believe that there is absolutely no requirement for a sportsman to talk about his private life – however big an icon he is – and Woods will surely have been pleased that his 36 holes here were ecstatically received by the seeming entirety of the remarkable 40,000 crowd. While one Irish newspaper chose to focus on the tight security ("Armed Guard for A Cheat" went the front-page headline, with the sub-heading, "Golf courses aren't renowned for riots... so why on earth has a philandering golfer been assigned gardai with guns to protect him?") the rest of the front pages featured Woods signing a cap for a six-year-old girl who dared break the cordon to run on to his fairway. It was just the positive image Woods' PR team should be seeking. It showed him as a human.
What are the chances of next week's circus at the Old Course producing similar photo opportunities? Unlikely. Although Woods is teeing it up in the Champions Challenge on Wednesday evening, the four-hole feature piece of the 150th anniversary celebrations. It has always been suspected that Woods values such exhibitions as much as he values fire hydrants. Yet he was keen to point out how much he is looking forward to teeing up in an event in which he just happens to be playing with a long-term enemy in Nick Faldo.
"It's something I wanted to have happen in 2000, but I had not yet won a British Open [sic] yet," said the 34-year-old, recalling the Millennium Champions Challenge at St Andrews. "My buddy [Mark] O'Meara was out there playing and I went out there and watched a few holes. He told me, 'One day your name will be on here', and that week just happened to be my week. And now I'm just looking forward to getting out there and playing in it."
Is he being serious, the golfer who likes playing non-competitive rounds in front of screaming fans so much he gets up before dawn to avoid doing so? While his enthusiasm may be doubted, what cannot be is his affection for the Fife links. He has often referred to the scene of two of his three Claret Jugs as "my favourite golf course on earth". And yesterday he was again found professing his undying love. "To win at the Home of Golf? I think it's what every champion wants to have happen in his career," he said. "St Andrews is where it all started and to win there gives such a special feeling, walking up the last. Yeah, I've had that feeling in other major championships before – but this is different. Because of all the history there."
Of course, Woods is a big part of that history having won by eight shots 10 years ago and five shots five years ago. Who knows how he will look after the final round, but when he tees off a week tomorrow the contrast with his two previous visits will be stark indeed. Woods is winless in 2010, the first time in his pro career he will not arrive at The Open with at least one title under his belt. His world No 1 status is precarious (in fact Phil Mickelson could usurp him with a top two finish at this week's Scottish Open) and reflects the uneasiness of his form. Last week in Philadelphia he putted "just terribly" which hardly bodes well for St Andrews. No guesses where he will spend most of his time at Isleworth these forthcoming days. "I must get on the practice green and work on my lag putting," he said. "There's a lot of long lag putts there."
At least he had a few holed putts to cheer yesterday, in a 69 which undid much of the embarrassment caused by his first-round 79. It wasn't going to win him the event, but this charity outing never has been about the "W". Woods made the exhausting trip at such a clearly inconvenient time because of his close relationship with McManus. "JP has meant a lot in my life and I truly believe in what he is trying to do to help others," he said.
It also gave Woods the chance to compare existences with champions from other sports. Yesterday he was partnered by the jockeys A P McCoy and Mick Fitzgerald. "We had a chance to talk about their injuries and how they have broken almost every bone in their bodies," said Woods. For the sportsman, whose fall from grace has been more spectacular than any other, Tiger was well-placed to sympathise.
Chip of the old block? Charlie follows Tiger's example
Charlie Woods may have got the thumbs-up from Ian Poulter, but he's still got some way to go to catch up with his own father in the precocity stakes. In 1978, at the age of two, Tiger appeared on American television's 'The Mike Douglas Show' to show off his swing and take part in a putting competition against comedian Bob Hope.
Tiger's performance surprised viewers but if they had known about his own father's infatuation with the game they might have been a little less taken aback. As a toddler Tiger, who grew up in Orange County, California, saw his father hitting balls into a net and mimicked him.
Tiger's TV appearance would not, of course, be his final encounter with a golf club – there was more to come before he had even turned three. Tiger entered and won the Under-10's section of the Drive, Pitch, and Putt competition, held at the Navy Golf Course in Cypress, California. He shot a 48 over nine holes and at age five, he appeared in 'Golf Digest' and on ABC's 'That's Incredible'. Now it looks like there could be another incredible Woods.