updated 05/22/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/22/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Lots of fathers brag about their sons, but in 1996 Earl Woods took paternal pride to a new level. His boy Tiger, Earl told reporters, "is the Chosen One. The world will be a better place to live in by virtue of his existence."
No ordinary boast, but then Tiger and Earl weren't just any old twosome. Earl Woods—who on May 3 died of prostate cancer at 74—will be remembered as the man who raised the greatest golfer of his time, and perhaps ever. But his true legacy is how he did it—not by badgering but by befriending his son. "He was never overbearing, never pushy," says Rudy Duran, Tiger's first golf coach. "He was just there for Tiger on every hole, supporting him."
A Green Beret with two tours of duty in Vietnam, Earl admitted he was too busy with his military career to be a good father to his three children by his first wife. But after Tiger, his only child with second wife Kultida, hopped out of his high chair to perfectly mimic his dad's golf swing, Earl devoted his life to nurturing his son's prodigious talent.
He survived a heart bypass and later fought off cancer in 1998 but was in ill health the last few years. He lived to see Tiger get married and win 10 majors; now, say those who knew him, he will live on through the Tiger Woods Foundation, a children's charity he and Tiger started together. "They were best friends," says Tiger's first pro golf coach, Butch Harmon. "The Tiger we see today is a product of Earl Woods."