Steve Helling
July 20, 2009 12:00 PM

Tiger Woods rarely shows weakness, so it’s surprising to see him drop his guard—if only for a minute—while promoting his Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010 video game in New York City. “I’m really tired,” he good-naturedly sighs. “This whole thing is crazy.” As he presses through the screaming crowd in Times Square, he is manhandled by bodyguards, media and thousands of fans who reach out at him from every direction. Sitting down with PEOPLE, he confesses that he sometimes just wants to lead an ordinary life. “This is abnormal, all of this,” he laughs. “I’d just rather be home.”

These days home is an eight-bedroom, nine-bathroom house in Orlando, where Woods, 33, spends his downtime with wife Elin, 29, and his two children, Sam Alexis, 2, and Charlie Axel, 4 months. “Being a father is the most significant thing I’ve ever done,” says the intensely private Woods, who rarely talks about his family. “People say I was born to play golf, but I think I was born to be a dad.”

If he has one regret, it’s that his own father isn’t alive to see his children. When Earl Woods died of prostate cancer in 2006, Woods was devastated. “My dad was my best friend and greatest role model,” Woods said at the time. Three years later, he often feels that his father is still with him. “I think of him every day. I hear his voice when I have decisions to make,” says Woods. “Everything I do and everything I am is because of him.”

Perhaps the older Woods’ influence is more pronounced now that Tiger has two cubs of his own. “My dad passed away before Sam was born, so I didn’t have a chance to talk to him about [parenting],” he says. “A lot of things he taught me about being a father is just through example. How important it is to be there for the child, no matter what. To love them unconditionally. To earn their respect, earn their trust. All those things he did for me. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do that with my kids.”

When knee surgery knocked him off the pro tour for eight months last year, golf fans lamented, but Woods found it was a blessing in disguise. During his rehab, he happily hung out with Sam, then 1, changing her diapers and teaching her English. (Mom Elin was in charge of teaching her Swedish.) “I would have missed a lot of development,” he says. “I got a chance to be around her all the time, to watch her develop, to watch her learn two languages. She learned to walk and then how to run.”

Another thing Woods didn’t miss: the birth of Charlie Axel in February. He was a hands-on father, coaching Elin in the delivery room. “It’s wonderful to have a son,” he says. “We’ve got our little family with my wife and daughter and son. It’s very gratifying.” Now back on the grind of the tour, Woods makes it a point to carve out time for his family. “Tiger is a balanced workaholic” says a family friend. “If anyone can balance the demands of training, competing and raising a family, he can.” And will there be more children? In true Tiger fashion, he gives little away. “My life is great,” he answers with a sly smile. “I’m just enjoying the moment.”

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