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tiger woods 1997 masters

The Masters that changed golf forever

It’s been 25 years since Tiger Woods rolled into Augusta and turned the sport on its head. Nick Rodger recalls an unforgettable week in Georgia that saw a changing of the guard

 

Tiger Woods 1997 Masters: The prelude

It was a procession to a coronation. In fact, Tiger Woods’ jubilant parade to a momentous victory in the Masters 25 years ago was so regal, he should have been carried through the towering pines, dogwoods, and azaleas of Augusta National on a sedan chair.

If Gene Sarazen’s famous albatross in the 1935 Masters was the “shot heard round the world”, then Tiger Woods 1997 Masters epic episode was probably heard in outer space.

It was a seismic moment which changed the face of golf forever.

At a tournament that did not invite a black golfer until the year Woods was born, the then-21-year-old demolished the field with a ruthless, rousing performance of power, poise, and precision.

Woods broke more records than a rampaging bull at a second-hand vinyl fair while his whopping 12-shot margin of victory left his wheezing rivals so far behind, they may as well have been playing in the previous year’s tournament.

Talking of 1996 and all that, the Augusta National greenkeepers had just about finished mopping up the debris and general gore of Greg Norman’s grisly capitulation by the time the runners and riders assembled for the ’97 showpiece.

Woods was already box office. He had been installed among the favourites despite never having played in a major championship as a professional and the weight of expectation he carried was broadly equivalent to the burden Atlas had to heave on his shoulders.

Woods had won three PGA Tour titles in his brief spell in the paid ranks but, with a share of 41st and a missed cut in the Masters during two previous outings as an amateur, there remained a general feeling that he still had his Augusta apprenticeship to serve. He hadn’t broken par in six rounds there, after all.

Norman, who had ballooned to that disastrous closing 78 having held a six-shot lead the previous year, was seeking redemption and arrived at Augusta in the midst of a 96-week stretch at the top of the world rankings.

Nick Faldo, who had taken merciless advantage of Norman’s calamity to plunder his third Green Jacket, had won at Riviera a month earlier but, as it turned out, he would never win on the PGA Tour again.
When the Englishman helped Woods snuggle into golf’s most cherished blazer on the Sunday evening, the changing of the guard was complete. The Tiger era was alive and kicking.

“It is like when Jack Nicklaus came out in the 60s,” said the distant runner-up Tom Kite at the time. “He was way out in front and everyone else on tour spent the next 20 to 30 years catching up. This seems to be the next generation.”

Nicklaus himself was equally as enthralled. “He’s more dominant over the guys he’s playing against than I ever was over the ones I played against,” gushed the Golden Bear, whose 17-under Masters record had held up for 32 years until Woods blitzed the joint. “He’s so long, he reduces the course to nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Like a man enjoying canapes on the clubhouse veranda, Woods nibbled Augusta down into bite-size pieces. The longest club he flighted into a par-four all week was a seven-iron.

His weary opponents, meanwhile, gazed forlornly at their strokesavers and wondered if a couple of Hail Marys could help them reach the greens as they struggled to keep up.

Their prayers would go unanswered.

Like everybody, even those golfing Gods were too consumed watching Woods put on a show-stopping performance for the ages. Well, after one or two fluffed lines…

tiger woods 1997 masters

Nicklaus himself was equally as enthralled. “He’s more dominant over the guys he’s playing against than I ever was over the ones I played against,” gushed the Golden Bear, whose 17-under Masters record had held up for 32 years until Woods blitzed the joint. “He’s so long, he reduces the course to nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Like a man enjoying canapes on the clubhouse veranda, Woods nibbled Augusta down into bite-size pieces. The longest club he flighted into a par-four all week was a seven-iron.

His weary opponents, meanwhile, gazed forlornly at their stroke savers and wondered if a couple of Hail Marys could help them reach the greens as they struggled to keep up.

Their prayers would go unanswered.

Like everybody, even those golfing Gods were too consumed watching Woods put on a show-stopping performance for the ages. Well, after one or two fluffed lines…

Act 1

To paraphrase that old Errol Brown lyric: “It started with a miss, never thought it would come to this.” When Woods failed to get up and down on the first hole and opened his campaign with a sighing bogey, before huffing and puffing to the turn in 40, nobody would have predicted the fireworks that were to come.

Woods was paired with defending champion Faldo on day one. The new age, for the front nine at least, brought with it a false dawn. And then came lift off.

A week earlier, Woods and his old friend, Mark O’Meara, had been having a knockabout at Isleworth in Florida as the space shuttle Columbia went blasting away from the Kennedy Space Centre. “I felt both small by comparison to space travel and in awe of what man could achieve,” Woods wrote in the book Unprecedented: The Masters and Me. “I felt exhilarated sitting there.” Woods would shoot 59 that day.

Fast forward to Thursday at Augusta and a trudge to the turn at four-over. His Masters mission stuck on the launch pad.

“I was bewildered and furious,” he recalled. “I was hot inside. Just before I stepped on the tee, I let go of that anger and calmed myself.

“I was thinking of the feeling I had the week before at Isleworth, when I hit one perfect shot after another.

“The feeling washed over me. My heart rate slowed. I felt free.”

From that point, Woods raced home in six-under to lurk just three off the early pace set by John Huston, whose caddie may have been tempted to mutter the line, “Huston, we have a problem.”

After that spluttering start, Woods clattered up through the gears with a thunderous surge that just about seared scorch marks on the turf. “He left us in the dust, it was a special day,” Faldo said.

The old cliche says that the Masters doesn’t begin until the back on Sunday, but once Woods had made the inward half of Augusta his own pitch-and-putt during round one, an air of inevitability set in.

Act 2

Woods kept the foot to the floor in the company of Paul Azinger in round two. A polished, purposeful six-under 66 upped the ante in his title push. “When he hit it, I looked at my caddie and was like, ‘Holy shit’,” Azinger recalled.

When Woods trundled in an eagle putt at 13, he found himself leading for the first time. Birdies at 14 and 15 during this telling thrust propelled him into a three-shot advantage over Colin Montgomerie. Having established such a fortified position of authority, those trailing must have felt like they needed fixed bayonets for the weekend assault.

Good old field marshal Monty was up for a fight. Woods, however, had yet more heavy artillery in his fearsome armoury…

Act 3

In 1997, Montgomerie was in the midst of a great period of pomp prosperity and had racked up four of what would eventually be seven consecutive European Tour Order of Merit crowns.

He had endured agonising losses in the 1994 US Open and the 1995 PGA Championship but he certainly wasn’t going to let some upstart get in his way as he hunted down that elusive major title.

“There’s more to it than hitting the ball a long way, and the pressure’s mounting more and more,” a bullish Montgomerie declared on the eve of a third-round pairing with Woods. “I’ve got more experience, a lot more experience, in major championships than he has. And hopefully I can prove that.”

Montgomerie’s personal rallying cry may have roused his own spirits. But it also raised Woods’ too and gave him fresh drive and vigour.

A photograph captured of the pair of them walking off a green during the round summed up the general mood as day three unravelled. Tiger, all calm, collected and in total control; Monty, his shoulders drooped at half-mast with his face contorted in the glum, glowering countenance of a Notre Dame gargoyle.

Montgomerie would drop away with a 74. Woods, in contrast, would soar with a super 65 which tripled his over-night lead to a surely insurmountable nine.

The finishing flourish was a sumptuous approach which spun back to within a foot of the hole and left the patrons assembled around the green slack-jawed in reverence.

Montgomerie, full of confident gusto the previous evening, was equally as assertive in his post-round analysis.

In his eyes – and he’d certainly had those eyes opened – the 61st playing of the Masters was done and dusted.

“There is no chance,” the Scot said when reminded of Norman’s epic crumble the previous year.

“We’re all human beings here. There’s no chance humanly possible that Tiger is going to lose this tournament. No way.

“This is different to last year. Faldo is not lying second and Woods is not Norman.

“I appreciated how far he hit his driver, and how he hit his irons, but I did not appreciate how he can putt.

“He is nine clear now and I am sure it will be higher tomorrow.”

Amid the clamour of this premature, if seemingly inescapable anointment, Woods tried his best to temper the fever.

“That is a bold statement,” Woods said of Montgomerie’s musings.

“But the tournament is not over yet. It’s a big lead, but I still need to go out tomorrow and shoot a good number. Whatever I shoot, all I want is a Green Jacket in my locker.”

Act 4

Costantino Rocca was Woods’ nearest rival – for want of a better word – but he trailed by the length of Washington Road.

The seasoned warhorse Kite, meanwhile, provided some gallows humour as he mulled over the leaderboard prior to the closing round.

tiger woods 1997 masters

“Well,” he said as he searched for a shaft of optimism for Rocca and the rest. “We’ve got it down to single digits.”

By Masters Sunday, Woods had assumed such a God-like status, you half expected him to walk over Rae’s Creek without the need of the bridge.

Nobody could touch him during an 18-hole victory parade. Everything else was a mere footnote.
While the rest required snookers just to make their challenge respectable, Woods was still taking nothing for granted.

tiger woods 1997 masters

His par-three on the short 16th even prompted one of golf’s great understatements.

“After that, I knew I could bogey in and win,” he said after completing his 12-shot romp.

As Rick Reilly, the legendary Sports Illustrated writer, noted at the time: “He could have quintuple-bogeyed in and won.

“He could’ve used nothing but his putter, his umbrella, and a rolled-up Mad magazine and won.”

Woods was the master of all he surveyed.

Tiger Woods 1997 Masters scorecard

Epilogue

Woods’ comprehensive conquest not only broke records, it broke a major racial barrier too.

Clifford Roberts, a co-founder of Augusta National, once said: “As long as I’m alive, golfers will be white and caddies will be black.”

Mercifully, the golfing times were a-changing. “You couldn’t help but notice that Chairman Roberts’ Rule of Golf Order had been turned happily upside down,” an article in Golf magazine stated. “The golfer was black and the caddie was white.”

As Woods slipped into golf’s most sought-after item of clothing, 44 million US television viewers tuned into one of the sport’s most symbolic moments.

“Green and black go good together, don’t they?” Woods’ father, Earl, said.

tiger woods 1997 masters

There was, though, a sense that Woods still did not belong. CNN aired an interview of Fuzzy Zoeller calling Woods “that little boy” and joking about him serving fried chicken and collard greens at the Champions Dinner.

Woods would later call Zoeller’s comments “out of bounds” but the pair did soothe relations.

Tiger Woods’ 1997 Masters win was the complete triumph. His margin of victory was the biggest in a major since Old Tom Morris won The Open by 13 in 1862. It was a record Woods would eventually obliterate in 2000 when he cantered to a 15-shot win in the US Open.

At Augusta in ’97, Woods averaged 323 yards off the tee – some 25 yards ahead of his nearest rival – and bludgeoned the par-fives into submission.

He covered those holes in 13-under during the week with a barrage of heavy artillery that just about left bits of shrapnel embedded in the Augusta fairways.

The phrase “Tiger-proofing”, which was the equivalent of laying down barbed wire, mines, and dragon’s teeth, would soon appear in the golf lexicon as courses attempted to fortify their defences to combat the howitzers.

Kite, the eventual runner-up, remarked that he at least managed to “beat all the mortals”.
Those mortals may have been well trounced by Woods but they would benefit as the Tiger effect took hold.

In 1996, the purses on the PGA Tour were around $71 million, but over the next 10 years or so, as corporate sponsorship flooded in and the cost of TV rights soared, the prize pots grew to almost $280 million.

“It changed overnight, where it hadn’t changed much the previous 30 or 40 years,” PGA Tour stalwart and two-time US Open champion Curtis Strange suggested.


tiger woods 1997 masters

What was in Tiger’s bag?

Driver: Cobra King Deep Face
Fairway woods: Titleist PT
Irons: Mizuno MP-29 and MP-14
Wedges: Cleveland 588 RTG
Putter: Scotty Cameron Newport
Ball: Titleist Professional 90
Apparel: Nike


A current generation, all inspired by the feats of Tiger in his pomp, now routinely compete for the kind of vast sums that Warren Buffett’s accountant used to pore over.

Woods, bolstered by his Navy Seal training regimes, brought athleticism to a game not particularly renowned for Adonis-like figures.

The baggy, ill-fitting garb that was draped over his scrawny frame in his earlier days morphed into the muscle-hugging outfit of a superhero as pumping iron went hand in hand with twirling five-irons.

All and sundry would follow his lead.

The 1997 Masters win ensured that Woods would spend the rest of his career examined and scrutinised like something existing in a petri dish under laboratory conditions.

“One thing Tiger said to me was that the public won’t let him act like a 21-year-old man,” the great Arnold Palmer said in the wake of Woods’ maiden major moment.

“Well, how many 21-year-old men are in the position that Tiger Woods is in? And I said, ‘Hey, that’s the price you must pay for the position you’re in, whether it be financially or as a champion. There has to be a penalty somewhere for all the nice things that happen to you.’”

The personal, professional, physical, and psychological tumult that Woods would endure in later years was a hefty price as he plumbed the pits of despair before emerging from the wreckage with that astonishing Masters conquest in 2019.

It was another remarkable twist in the Tiger tale. In 1997, that tale began with an historic chapter.

Tiger Woods 1997 Masters: The records

According to Golf Digest, 20 existing records were broken and seven more tied in Tiger Woods’ 1997 Masters win. Here are a few of our favourites…

Largest margin of victory: Woods’ 12-shot win beat Jack Nicklaus’s nine-shot victory in 1965. The highest margin since is Dustin Johnson’s five in 2020.

Largest 54-hole margin: Raymond Floyd’s eight-shot lead with 18 to play in 1976 was beaten by one when Woods went into day four leading by nine.

Lowest 72-hole score: Woods’ final score of 270, thanks to rounds of 70, 66, 65 and 69, edged Nicklaus’s 32-year-old record by a shot. Jordan Spieth matched it in 2015.

Highest first nine holes by a champion: Tiger’s opening-nine 40 was two worse than Ralph Guldahl’s 38 in 1939. Imagine how many he could have won by if it weren’t for that stuttering start…

Most 3s by a champion: Woods scribbled a ‘3’ on his scorecard 26 times, consisting of 10 pars, 14 birdies and two eagles, beating Horton Smith’s previous record of 22. Woods would go on to match his own record in 2005.

Youngest champion: At 23 years, 3 months, and 14 days, Woods beat Seve Ballesteros’s previous mark by almost two years.

Youngest 36-hole leader: Take two days off the previous number.

Youngest 54-hole leader: You know the drill now.

Youngest player to shoot 65: Phil Mickelson had set the record a year before at the age of 25.

Youngest player to shoot 66: Ballesteros, Europe’s first Masters champion, had set the record in 1980 the day after his 23rd birthday.

Youngest player to shoot 30 on the back nine: Remember Maurice Bembridge’s famous back-nine 30 in 1974? He was 29 when he did that.

Champion in first major as a pro: No player, other than Woods at the 1997 Masters, has won the first major in which they’ve competed after turning pro. It may never happen again.

Have your say on Tiger Woods 1997 Masters

Did you enjoy this Tiger Woods 1997 Masters piece? Nick Rodger is a freelance golf writer. You can follow him on Twitter.

Alex Perry

Alex Perry

Alex has been the editor of National Club Golfer since 2017. A Devonian who enjoys wittering on about his south west roots, Alex moved north to join NCG after more than a decade in London, the last five of which were with ESPN. Away from golf, Alex follows Torquay United and spends too much time playing his PlayStation or his guitar and not enough time practising his short game.

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