Performance, power, colour of Woods in 1997 redefined golf and sporting world
Tiger Woods taught me golf. He brought me to the game. Sat me down. Made me watch for hours over years. Explained the spectacular to me. Made me interested in swing planes. Forced me to count streaks of consecutive cuts. Demanded, like some personal red-shirted tutor, that I recalibrate my idea of what domination in golf could be.
Woods was not just a performer but a peddler of an art form. Never a saint but a salesman. He told us, an entire generation suspicious of this game, that golf was worthy and adventurous.
Woods - who may not play in next week's Masters - changed golf and us and himself in the process and it all started on an April weekend in 1997 in a sports world that belonged to Pete Sampras, Michael Jordan, Ronaldo. Real athletes. Not the plaid-trousered, somewhat paunchy gents who played an expensive game, in clubs you couldn't enter, and which was described by William Wordsworth as "a day spent in a round of strenuous idleness".
The sport was exclusive, spoilt, patriarchal, white, foreign. In 1908, Jack Johnson became the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion and in 1956 Althea Gibson became the first African-American to win a Grand Slam tennis title. Yet only in 1990, long after the world had changed, did Augusta National finally invite a black member.
This game was crying for a transformation, for a golfing poet, for a modern athlete. Then he, 21, came in 1997, and of course he wore red, for this was the colour of fire, revolution, passion, warning, danger. He would admit that year that "I've had my share of threats since I was 16," but he did not flinch. Instead the world bent to him as this proud black man turned the 18th fairway on Sundays into his personal red carpet. It was overdue and it was beautiful.
When we first got to know him in 1997, he had a walk, a stare and hit the ball into distant postcodes. As Michael Jordan told a TV analyst:"Tiger plays the way I play basketball. Aggressively." He made a seemingly middle-aged sport look young and he was even then never just a sports story, or a business tale, but a one-man social upheaval.
He putted with creative cold-bloodedness and owned an innate flair for drama. He led his first Masters as a pro by three shots on the second day, then nine shots, then won by 12. He made the inevitable incredible. Quentin Tarantino's first feature-length film was the later-to-be legendary Reservoir Dogs but Tiger in Augusta 20 years ago was what you properly call an introduction.
If you didn't watch sport, you were intrigued; if you didn't watch golf, you had to take a look; if you watched golf, you started watching more. Exceptional athletes are Pied Pipers who turn us into children and hold us in their thrall like no other. Just like how Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt later spread the gospel of their lesser-watched sports through the global media, Woods was a televangelist.
He was neither sport's greatest champion, nor its noblest or most beloved, but he arguably had the greatest effect: In the 20th century, did anyone change their sport more? He changed the size of the courses, how golfers trained, what rivals earned, how many people watched, where golf went.
He changed us, too. You could dislike him, his entitled aura, his stoniness, his cursing, his womanising, but people watched. He could be lying 30th and cameras would follow him for his only rival was his own imagination on that day. Where we saw trees he saw daylight, a golfing architect who viewed space differently.
Woods was not Muhammad Ali or LeBron James, no quote of his is widely remembered, no cause did he fight, no moral stance did he take on women's issues. He stood only for himself and excellence. Eventually he would lose a lot. Parts of his reputation, his marriage, his sponsors, his limber body. But on April 13, 1997, among the azaleas of Augusta, brilliant in all his innocence, the madness of fame yet to fully engulf him, he won us all.
What I remember...
ADILSON DA SILVA, 46, BRAZIL
Won 12 times on the Sunshine Tour
"Tiger was so young and so fearless. This was his first Major but he played like a veteran."
Woods entered the tournament as world No. 14, having won three times from 14 official PGA Tour starts. He turned pro 71/2 months earlier, in August 1996. By comparison, Jack Nicklaus won his first Major, the 1962 US Open in June, at 22. It was Nicklaus' first win after he turned pro in November 1961.
JEEV MILKHA SINGH, 45, INDIA
Won 13 times on European, Japan and Asian Tour
"I was in Europe and watched the replay. I can't forget the way he came back in the first round. He had a very bad start, was four over after nine holes. What grit, willpower and determination."
Woods bogeyed holes one, four, eight and nine. His 40 on the first nine was, by two shots, the worst front nine ever for a Masters winner. He was 22 under in his final 63 holes.
SERGIO GARCIA, 37, SPAIN
Won nine PGA Tour titles, including the 2008 Players Championship
"You could see and feel it was important. It wasn't something normal. The next day was a Monday and I remember talking about it with my friends in school."
That Sunday's final-round broadcast was watched by an estimated 44 million viewers in the United States, the highest television ratings of any golf tournament before or after.
The winning formula
To par, comprising two eagles, 21 birdies, 42 pars and seven bogeys.
He completed 37 consecutive holes, from hole 3 in the second round to hole 5 in the final round, without a bogey. He did not have a bogey on the back nine for the week and played it in 16 under par, breaking Arnold Palmer's 1962 record by four shots. He did not three-putt once.
He won on April 13, 1997, almost 50 years after Jackie Robinson broke the baseball colour line when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base on April 15, 1947.
Woods' overall record in 18 starts at Augusta as a pro is four wins, another seven top-fives, plus six top-25s. His worst result was tied-40th in 2012. The Masters is the only Major he has never missed the cut as a pro.
ERNIE ELS, 47, SOUTH AFRICA
Former world No. 1 with 70 pro wins, including four Majors. He finished tied-17th (288) in 1997
"I will never forget the way he played the 18th hole. He made it look like a chip-and-putt course. We were hitting eight-irons. He hit a drive round the corner. The flag was in the back right and he hit a sand wedge which went over the green, took a back spin and almost went in the hole. It was stuff that nobody could do in those days."
Woods led the 86-man field in average driving distance at 323 yards, 25 yards longer than the next player, Scott McCarron.
ADAM SCOTT, 36, AUSTRALIA
Former world No. 1 with 13 PGA Tour wins, including the 2013 Masters
"Tiger completely over-powered the par-fives at Augusta. I remember how on each of the first two days he hit a wedge for his second shot into the 500-yard, par-five 15th hole. He kept going at the pins."
Woods was 13 under in total on the par-fives. He played the par-threes even par and was five under for the par-fours.
DANIEL CHOPRA, 43, SWEDEN
Won twice on PGA Tour and thrice on second-tier Web.com Tour
"His fitness and attitude stood out. Tiger changed the way people hit the ball. Before, it was about rhythm and tempo. When we were growing up, no one talked about speed or velocity in our swings. But Tiger was an athlete and now the game is about power."
Woods at 21 years 104 days old, is the youngest Masters champion. He was the youngest in the 1997 field that averaged 38 years.
KARRIE WEBB, 42, AUSTRALIA
Former women's world No. 1 with 41 LPGA titles, including seven Majors
"I was in Florida watching it on TV. Not many people can put that much pressure on themselves and live up to the standards he set. The way he dominated the field in 1997, that's what made the members change Augusta. They lengthened it to make it tougher not long after that."
Augusta National in 1997 measured 6,925 yards. This year it is expected to play in excess of 7,400 yards.
He was neither sport's greatest champion, nor its noblest or most beloved, but he arguably had the greatest effect: In the 20th century did anyone change their sport more? He changed the size of the courses, how golfers trained, what rivals earned, how many people watched, where golf went. He changed us, too. You could dislike him, his entitled aura, his stoniness, his cursing, his womanising, but people watched.
DOUG FERGUSON, 53
Associated Press golf writer Covered the 1997 Masters and 84 Majors in his career
"The most poignant memory were the black servers in the dining area of the press room stopping to watch on television. They didn't do that when Nick Faldo won. From that victory, it enabled the PGA Tour to sign the largest TV contracts and for the prize money to reach record levels. It set a new standard. And I feel it left golf in such a state of shock that it took years for most players to feel as though they could beat him."
For the 1997 season, 18 players won US$1 million or more in prize money. That jumped to 99 in 2007 and 107 in 2016.
LEWINE MAIR, 71
Former Daily Telegraph golf correspondent, now Global Golf Post senior European correspondent. Covered 1997 Masters
"I remember the impact that tournament had on Colin Montgomerie. He was paired with Tiger in the third round and in his interview later produced a memorable quote which related to how, the previous year, Greg Norman had a final-round six-stroke lead but collapsed, allowing Nick Faldo to win.
When someone asked if a similar rally by Costantino Rocco, who was nine shots back to Woods in second, was possible, Monty replied, 'With all due respect, Rocco is not Nick Faldo and this young man (Woods) is by no means Greg Norman.'
Monty himself had shot 74 against Woods' 65 on Saturday and was mesmerised by what he had seen. He emphasised that there was no chance of anyone getting anywhere near Woods and said, 'We're all human beings here. There's no chance humanly possible.' "
Two months after his Masters win in April, Woods became world No. 1 for the first time. It lasted only a week but over the next 17 years, he would top the rankings a further 10 times. He holds the record of 683 weeks, more than double Norman's tally of 331 weeks.
KIM KYUNG TAE, 30, S. KOREA
Won 13 times on Japan Golf Tour and the 2015 Order of Merit
"I remember his last putt. He took his time even though it was a huge lead. He wanted the record."
Woods' winning score of 18-under 270 is still the record, which Jordan Spieth tied in 2015. Woods' winning margin of 12 shots is also a record.
CHAPCHAI NIRAT, 33, THAILAND
Won four times on Asian Tour
"The red shirt was unforgettable. I remember that because it is lucky for Thais."
Woods always wears red on Sundays because his mother Kultida, who is Thai, told him that it was his power colour.
JEFF HAYNES, 50
Former AFP photographer who took the uppercut picture on the left. First covered the Masters in 1993 and has shot 39 men's Majors
"Every Sunday morning at the Masters from 20 years ago and up until recent years, photographers would have to gather outside the clubhouse around 6am to place chairs in the front row of the 18th green before the patrons were able to put down their own chairs. I was able to get mine into the front row looking straight down the green and down the 18th fairway.
At AFP, we had a group of photographers who surrounded the green for every angle. I was ready with a 400mm 2.8 lens to be tight on Tiger's body. I knew I had a clean background and just hoped he would look my way and do his classic fist pump at the end.
Most golfers, including Jack Nicklaus, celebrated back then with a slight wave of the hand and tip of the cap. Tiger made that putt and he celebrated just the way I had hoped. It was a great feeling. Looking back on it, I guess it is a historic photo being his first Major win and his first Masters.
Things really changed after he won his second and third Majors. The crowds only wanted to see him. He was the first golfer that photographers would cover from the first tee shot to the final putt on the 18th green and every shot in between on Thursday and Friday.
No one had ever covered anyone like that in the past.
You would have someone dedicated to just covering him for the whole day and maybe even more than one photographer because he was the only story at the time. People only cared how Tiger did, win, lose or draw. People would win Majors and the lead picture would be Tiger failing."
•Compiled by Jonathan Wong and Rohit Brijnath
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2017, with the headline 'An April day at Augusta that changed everything'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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