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TIGER WOODS HAS A VERY BRIGHT FUTURE

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It wouldn't have the same bite if we referred to golf's remarkable, new-wave teen as Eldrick Woods. Call him "Tiger."

That's really who he is. More and more, we're seeing that's what he is.After eight holes of Sunday's final of the U.S. Amateur, the lithe Tiger was 4-down against Trip Kuehne, a rich man's son from Oklahoma State. Woods was all but being caned.

But a Tiger doesn't quit.

As they teed off on the ninth, the Stanford freshman-to-be shrugged bony shoulders and sighed, "I'm really getting my (expletive) kicked. But I've been there before."

Woods is still a golfing neophyte, compared with the rich and famous Normans and Prices and Azingers, but on the renowned TPC at Sawgrass course near Jacksonville, the Tiger was an 18-year-old golfing Houdini who kept daring fate and then making great fairway escapes.

After his "getting kicked" comment, not quite a quarter into Sunday's grueling 36-hole match, Woods would rally like Lazarus. Coming back from the U.S. Amateur dead. Seven hours later, a fading Kuehne had lost 2-down to Tiger, who benefited both from considerable skill and good-bounce fortunes.

It wasn't Tiger's first such trick. A few days earlier, a struggling Woods was 3-down with five holes to play against University of Florida golf coach Buddy Alexander, the 1986 U.S. Amateur champ.

But then came a shocking stretch-run disintegration, not by the California teenager but by his highly-experienced, highly-accomplished opponent. Alexander finished bogey-bogey-bogey-bogey-double bogey to lose 1-down.

For Tiger, whatever it took.

By now, I should be mentioning that Eldrick Woods is a young man of color, a fresh hope in a sport known for its pallor. After dealing with academic challenges at Stanford University, this Tiger could become the finest golfer ever with African-American heritage.

There were far more black golfers on the PGA Tour in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s. Jim Dent, Lee Elder, Charlie Sifford, Calvin Peete and Rafe Botts have since matured to the Senior PGA Tour. Sifford, coming before the others, suffered the most grief. Peete was the biggest achiever on the PGA Tour. Dent is by far the top winner as a Senior.

But among 300 players on today's regular PGA Tour, the lone African-American is 45-year-old Jim Thorpe.