Lytham, England: Tiger Woods was among the world's top golfers at the British Open who paid tribute to South African icon Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, the eve of the inspirational statesman's 94th birthday.
Mandela, jailed for 27 years by a white-minority regime, brought peaceful democracy to once-apartheid South Africa and became the nation's first black president to global acclaim.
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, was the first black player to win a major title with a record-shattering 1997 Masters victory at Augusta National Golf Club.
One year after his historic victory, Woods met then-President Mandela and found a charismatic figure like none other he had seen before or since.
"He has such a presence and aura about him unlike anyone I've ever met," Woods said Tuesday. "He has meant so much to so many people around the world, not just in South Africa."
Woods recalled the invitation to Mandela's home, where his late father Earl joined him in visiting the leader.
"It was incredible meeting him for the first time," Woods said. "My dad and I, we walk in, they said, 'OK just go into this living room.' And we walk in and I look at my dad and I said, 'Hey Pops, do you feel that? It feels different in here.'
"He said, 'Yeah, I feel the same way.' We are just standing there looking at some of the things on the wall. And over in the corner was President Mandela. He was over there just meditating in the corner and it was just a different feeling in the room."
England's Lee Westwood has also found Mandela an inspiration.
"He's obviously a very special man," Westwood said. "He sacrificed a lot. I was fortunate enough to meet him a few years back. He's an inspiration of mine, an inspirational character."
Golf's World No. 1, Luke Donald of England, wished Mandela the best despite having never met him.
"What Mr. Mandela went through, and to have the attitude that he came out with, that's something not many people could do in their lives and obviously I wish him all the best," Donald said.
A frail Mandela, who has been hospitalized twice in as many years, will spend his birthday alone with his family as he has in recent years.
"I wish him happy birthday and hopefully continued health," Donald said. "I know he's had some scares in the last few months with his health, but hopefully he continues. He is one of the great men on this Earth."