After wee tot Tiger emulates his father’s swing in the family's garage, Earl Woods begins training his 10-month-old son to play golf. "He walked over, got his little putter, set up, waggled just like I did and hit the ball," Earl recalls. In 1978, the young prodigy makes an impressive turn on The Mike Douglas Show, where he outputts Bob Hope.
By age 14, Woods smashes the junior amateur circuit, racking up five age-group world titles. "I'm not out just to be the best black player," Woods tells PEOPLE. "I want to be the best golfer ever." Two years later, the high school sophomore (and reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion) tees off at the Nissan Los Angeles Open, becoming the youngest golfer ever to play in a PGA Tour event.
After being heavily recruited, Woods matriculates at Stanford University on a golf scholarship, majoring in economics. After winning the NCAA Championship, Woods opts to leave Stanford after just two years to pursue golf professionally.
Woods, 20, makes his highly anticipated professional debut with lucrative endorsements from Nike, Titleist, Rolex and American Express (all are worth around $90 million) under his belt. Sports Illustrated lauds him as PGA Tour Rookie of the Year (he wins two PGA Tour events in his first two months on tour) and lands his first Sportsman of the Year SI cover (with his second coming in 2000).
After establishing his Tiger Woods Foundation with his father, Woods becomes the youngest golfer ever to win The Masters Tournament at 21. "There isn't a flaw in his golf or his makeup. He will win more majors than Arnold Palmer and me combined," golf legend Jack Nicklaus says of Woods, who plows through with subsequent wins in 2001, 2002 and 2005."He has the finest, fundamentally sound golf swing I've ever seen.”
Sparks fly at the British Open when Swedish golfer Jesper Parnevik introduces Woods to his au pair Elin Nordegren. After a brief engagement in 2003, the former Nordic model and the golf great tie the knot in an ultra-private sunset wedding in Barbados in October 2004.
Tiger's father Earl dies at age 74 after a lengthy battle with cancer. "My dad was my best friend and greatest role model, and I will miss him deeply," Woods writes on his Web site. "He was an amazing dad, coach, mentor, soldier, husband and friend…I wouldn't be where I am today without him, and I'm honored to continue his legacy of sharing and caring."
Joyful news arrives for the Woods family as they welcome their first child, daughter Sam Alexis. Two years later, on Feb. 8, 2009, son Charlie Axel joins the Woods brood. "Being a father is the most significant thing I've ever done," the intensely private Woods tells PEOPLE. "People say I was born to play golf, but I think I was born to be a dad."
It would become the crash that was heard around the world: Days after Woods is found passed out in his black Escalade after a car accident outside his Windermere, Fla., home, allegations that the golfer cheated on his wife Elin with countless mistresses (including nightclub hostess Rachel Uchitel) emerges. "I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart," he writes on his Web site.
Woods calls a press conference, where his mother, Kultida, sits front row and Nordegren is noticeably absent. Reading from a prepared statement, Woods admits his serial infidelities: "I want to say to each of you, simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior. I have let you down. I have let down my fans."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Splash News Online; Patrick Murphy-Racey/Getty; PGA TOUR Archive/PGA; Splash News Online; Jon Levy/Getty; Dom Furore/Woods Family; Sam Greenwood/Getty