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Tiger Woods misses practice to be with father

Tiger Woods missed the final practice round at The Players Championship on Wednesday because he wanted to check on his father in California, a tour official said.

Earl Woods, who still lives in Cypress, Calif., where he raised his son, has been battling cancer the last two years.

Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent at IMG, said in a statement that Woods was not at Sawgrass for personal reasons, but that he intended to return in time for his 12:33 p.m. tee time in the first round Thursday.

The tour official said Woods decided Tuesday night to fly to California, but that he was expected back Wednesday night. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because official comment was to come only from Woods' camp.

The absence was noticeable early.

Woods prefers to be the first on the course for practice rounds, and a group of four volunteers who were to serve as marshals waited for him atop the stairs in the parking lot at 6 a.m.

One man brought his son to the course at 6:30 a.m. with hopes of seeing Woods play a couple of holes before the boy had to go to school. Woods, who won The Players Championship in 2001, was scheduled to meet with reporters at 10:15 a.m., after his practice round.

By 9 a.m., the tour canceled his interview.

Earl Woods first was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998, but the cancer returned in 2004 and spread to other parts of his body. He has not seen his son play since Woods won his Target World Challenge in December 2004 at Sherwood Country Club.

He went to Augusta, Ga., for the Masters last year, but never made it to the course. Woods broke down in tears after winning his fourth green jacket in a playoff.

"Every year that I've been lucky enough to win this tournament, my dad's been there to give me a big hug. And today, he wasn't there," Woods said. "I can't wait to get home and see him, and give him a big bear hug."

Earl Woods' health was said to be deteriorating over the holidays, and he was not strong enough to attend the grand opening Feb. 10 of the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif. Woods said he spoke to his father the night before the opening, and "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."

Woods is off to a strong start in 2006, winning three of his first six starts. He has next week off before going after his fifth Masters title.

March 23, 2006


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