The Lion

He has the swing.  He has the desire. He even has the name:  The Lion. That's what Michael Balcar calls himself.  And why is that?  "Lions eat tigers,'' he replies.

Clearly, Michael is shaping his game for a confrontation with a young man named Woods - talent, sustained interest and proper direction permitting.

But Tiger's safe for now; the Lion just turned 24.

All over America, would-be Tigers are mothballing their baseball bats and soccer balls, opting instead to play golf. Driving ranges are more crowded than usual. And golf clinics and summer golf camps are reporting record interest.

The catalyst is a 21-year-old who already has won three U.S. Junior Amateurs, three U.S. Amateurs, and four professional titles during his first nine months on the tour, including a record-setting blowout win at the Masters.

But Tiger Woods is not the reason Michael Balcar has embraced the game. He's been at it since he turned 16 months, in 1994, before Tiger became widely known, say his parents, Robert and Barbara Balcar. That's when Michael's grandparents delivered a set of plastic clubs to the Balcar home, a few blocks from Stone Oak Country Club in Springfield Township.

Michael took to the putter right away. That summer and the next he began joining his father, a scratch player and Stone Oak's current champion, for nightly cart rides to the course. There he watched his father launch one 290-yard drive after another. With little prompting and a naturally fluid swing, Michael soon was launching drives of his own with his plastic clubs.  ``They would fly,'' says his mother.