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Tiger Woods opens his $25m learning centre

Tiger Woods didn't have to hit a spectacular shot or pump his fist to find satisfaction. Instead, he gripped an oversized pair of scissors and cut the ribbon to officially open his $25 million learning center Friday aimed at helping children find their way.

"This is by far the greatest thing that has ever happened to me," said Woods, a winner of 57 tournaments worldwide and 10 major championships. "This is bigger than golf. This is bigger than anything I've done on the golf course. Because we will be able to shape lives."

But even a grand-opening ceremony came off with the kind of flair that has marked his career.

Woods was joined by former President Clinton and Maria Shriver, the wife of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with dozens of the estimated 5,000 children who will pass through the doors of the Tiger Woods Learning Center by the end of the year.

The 35,000-square-foot facility is located next to the H.G. "Dad" Miller Golf Course, where Woods played when he was in high school. Kids who apply by writing letters come to the center after school for interactive programs in science, math and technology.

"I'm impressed Tiger Woods decided to do this when he was 30 instead of when he was 60," Clinton said.

Clinton recalled being elected governor of Arkansas when he was 32, the youngest person elected to that position in 40 years. He referred to himself as a "good governor and a political failure."

"It's hard to have great gifts and bring them to bear in the public eye under enormous pressure when you're young," Clinton said, then turning to Woods.

"And it's a tribute to you ... that somehow you've been able to amass a stunning, unprecedented record and keep holding yourself up to start giving back at this point in your life."

The only sad note to a day of brilliant sunshine was the absence of his father, Earl Woods, who is battling cancer and could not leave his home a short drive away.

Woods nearly broke down when he mentioned the support of his father, just as he did last April when he won the Masters for the fourth time.

"I talked to him last night," Woods said. "He kept telling me how proud he was of what I was able to do, and proud of me for thinking of this. It's hard on all of us."

The Tiger Woods Foundation was created shortly after Woods turned pro, and although his focus immediately turned to children, he did not have a clear vision of what to do. Woods primarily staged junior golf clinics around the country, later assembling selected kids to attend a clinic in Orlando, Fla. He referred to it as a "circus act," breezing in and out of town and leaving kids little more than memories.

That changed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Woods, stranded in St. Louis where a World Golf Championship was canceled, drove to Florida and said he spent most of that time reflecting on his life and the foundation.

"I felt we weren't doing enough," Woods said.

That's when he thought of the idea of a learning center, and it took 3 1/2 years from the first meeting with Orange County officials to reach the grand opening.

Woods donated the first $5 million to the project, along with earnings from his Target World Challenge at the end of the season. He was involved in starting a new PGA Tour event, the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, which gives its net proceeds to the Tiger Woods Foundation.

And he relied heavily on 25 founding partners, which range from Target to Nike to Augusta National.

Woods has said he would like to be remembered more for his work with children than the number of majors he ultimately wins, and referred to golf as "merely a vehicle."

It was reminiscent of comments his father made to Sports Illustrated in 1996, after Woods turned pro and won twice in his first seven events to qualify for the Tour Championship. Earl Woods referred to him as the "Chosen One" and said he will "do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity."

Asked about some of his father's comments, Woods smiled and attributed them to "proud parents talking."

"But he's always told me behind closed doors that 'You'll find your way; you'll choose the direction of the foundation,"' Woods said. "This is a step away from golf. This is certainly more important than hitting a high draw or a high fade. This is getting someone prepared for life. And this [center] is going to do that."

Clinton and Woods played golf Thursday -- the former president beat him on one hole, but said he finished 25 shots behind over 18 holes.

Clinton took a brief tour of the center before the ceremony, and watched children in their light blue shirts building computer models with Legos and working on forensic science projects.

"It's important for us to understand that there has never been a time in our history when private citizens have had the ability to do public good," Clinton said.

He encouraged everyone to do their part, and held up Woods as an example.

"If we do our part, we don't have to worry about the future of this country," Clinton said. "I think more likely than not, this will be the most peaceful, exciting, interesting era in our history. But we all have to do our part. And today, you've seen in a beautiful, moving, hopeful way that Tiger Woods has done his."

February 11, 2006


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