Sports

‘He left us in the dust’


AUGUSTA, Ga. — As Mark O’Meara approached the tee field of the fifteenth gap at Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership in the course of the first spherical of the 1997 Masters, he noticed Tiger Woods sitting on a bench.

O’Meara, considered one of Woods’ closest buddies and a mentor in the course of the early years of Woods’ PGA Tour profession, sat down subsequent to him.

“Really?” O’Meara requested Woods.

“Yeah, what?” Woods replied.

“Dude, what’s going on, man?” O’Meara stated. “You never play like this when you play with me at home. All you need to do is pretend like you’re playing against me. You shoot 59, you make birdies, you make holes-in-one. I mean, gimme a break.”

Solely six days earlier, on April 4, 1997, O’Meara had performed a spherical with Woods at their house course, Isleworth Nation Membership in Windermere, Florida. Woods shot 59 on the par-72 course, the one time he has achieved golf’s magic quantity throughout a profession wherein he has gained a record-tying 82 PGA Tour occasions and 15 main championships. They performed once more the subsequent day — O’Meara left after Woods made birdie on the primary gap and a hole-in-one on the second.

Then, lower than every week later, in his first look as an expert on the Masters, Woods’ recreation was out of types. Enjoying with defending champion Nick Faldo, Woods hooked his opening tee shot left and was pressured to chip out. He ended up bogeying the primary gap — after which the par-3 fourth, par-5 eighth and par-4 ninth. He did not make a birdie and shot 4-over 40 on the primary 9 holes.

“He wasn’t down in the dumps,” O’Meara recalled. “Not shell-shocked, but he definitely was not happy and a little disappointed that he hadn’t gotten off to a better start. He wouldn’t have said that, but by knowing him — his emotions and things — it kind of showed when he was sitting next to me.”

Twenty-five years later, what occurred over the 63 holes that adopted within the 1997 Masters remains to be the stuff of legend. As O’Meara provided encouragement, he could not have identified that Woods was on the point of run away from the sphere in a record-shattering victory that will change into the coronation of a worldwide celebrity and alter golf without end.

Woods would find yourself setting the Masters match scoring file of 18-under par 270 to change into the youngest man to win a inexperienced jacket at 21. He was 22 underneath over these remaining 63 holes. Alongside the best way, Woods set 20 Masters data and tied six others in what could be the primary of 5 victories at Augusta Nationwide.

His historical past on the Masters will get one other sudden twist this week, as Woods is seemingly able to return to motion after a 14-month layoff since struggling critical accidents in a automotive wreck on Feb. 23, 2021. It might be his first begin in additional than 500 days.

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“He went out in 40 and back in 30 and then we didn’t see him for the next 14 years,” Faldo stated in 2017. “He left us in the dust.”

On the silver anniversary of Woods’ historic victory on the 1997 Masters, individuals who had front-row seats at Augusta Nationwide — his opponents, caddies, TV announcers, reporters and Woods himself — recall that week and, particularly, these first 18 holes. Their reminiscences come from new interviews, earlier feedback from an ESPN documentary about Woods, and Tiger’s recollections in his 2017 e-book, “The 1997 Masters: My Story.”

‘It was so complete Tiger it was annoying’

Coming into the 1997 Masters, Woods’ opponents did not know if he was able to compete for a inexperienced jacket — they simply knew they had been uninterested in listening to about him.

“Going in, it was, ‘What do you think of Tiger?'” Faldo stated. “[The media] didn’t ask you anything [about yourself]. It was so total Tiger. It was unbelievable. It was so total Tiger it was annoying. He came in with such major attention.”

Whereas at Stanford, Woods turned the primary participant to win three consecutive U.S. Novice titles. In June 1996, he gained an NCAA particular person championship. The subsequent month, he gained the silver medal because the low newbie at The Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, tying for twenty second and taking pictures 5-under 66 within the second spherical.

With the announcement, “Hello, world,” Woods turned professional on Aug. 29, 1996. He gained twice as a rookie on the PGA Tour and once more on the Mercedes Championships (now the Sentry Event of Champions) in Hawaii in January 1997.

“There was a lot of anticipation and a lot of expectations and excitement,” stated Fanny Sunesson, who was Faldo’s caddie in 1997. “But you really didn’t know. To be honest, I don’t remember what he had done before the Masters. There was a buzz in the air and the tournament had something special.”

Pretty much as good as Woods had been over the primary seven months on tour, Faldo and different execs questioned aloud if he was prepared for the strain that got here with enjoying at Augusta Nationwide. Woods had by no means damaged par in six rounds as an newbie and had missed the reduce by 4 photographs simply the 12 months earlier than, when Greg Norman infamously blew a six-shot lead within the remaining spherical and Faldo gained his third inexperienced jacket.

Faldo had as soon as known as enjoying Augusta Nationwide a “five-year affair” as a result of that is how lengthy it took gamers to determine the place out.

“I think there’s a learning curve of playing Augusta and the discipline of playing the golf course,” Faldo stated. “When to hit the ball. When not. When to make par and walk. It’s not impossible, but I think experience does help here.”

But, Woods’ inexperience at Augusta did not cease oddsmakers from putting in him because the betting favourite with Faldo and Norman. The general public and media had been as equally consumed with Woods, a person of shade, who was born the identical 12 months, 1975, that Augusta Nationwide invited Lee Elder, the primary Black participant to compete within the Masters. Elder was honored as one of many ceremonial starters, together with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Participant, earlier than the 2021 Masters. Lower than eight months later, Elder died in November at age 87.

On today in 1997, it was clear who the patrons got here to see.

“On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Augusta National, there’s probably 30,000 to 40,000 [patrons] out there,” O’Meara stated. “But when I’m playing with Tiger Woods, they’re six, seven deep on every single hole, wanting to see him. It was like a rock star showing up, for sure.”

The earlier 12 months, Woods performed a follow spherical with Nicklaus, who has gained extra main championships, 18, than another participant in historical past. Nicklaus informed Woods that his recreation was so outfitted for the course that he would win as many inexperienced jackets as Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus mixed. Nicklaus gained six Masters; Palmer gained 4. Nicklaus informed the media as a lot earlier than the opening spherical in 1997.

“He’s playing really well, but Augusta takes a lot of local knowledge,” two-time U.S. Open winner Curtis Unusual stated. “It’s a veteran’s tournament. It’s a veteran’s golf course. This kid is young. He’s really still inexperienced in major championships. All of that hogwash — it didn’t make any difference to Tiger Woods.”

As Woods and Faldo arrived on the first gap for his or her 12:44 p.m. ET tee time within the first spherical on April 10, 1997, all eyes had been on the 21-year-old within the dishevelled Nike shirt.

“The storyline was on fire,” CBS announcer Jim Nantz stated. “Everybody felt like the coronation was coming at Augusta. I felt it for months leading up to it.”

‘Forty. That is not an excellent begin’

When TV protection of the 1997 Masters began on USA Community on Thursday, Woods and Faldo had been standing in the midst of the tenth fairway. Again then, Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership allowed TV protection of solely the second 9 holes. The day earlier than the match began, then-Masters chairman Jack Stephens was requested about increasing TV protection to all 18 holes, like within the U.S. Open.

“Progress is slow because we don’t want to do it,” Stephens stated.

Woods was in all probability pleased no one noticed his first 9 holes.

“I couldn’t keep the ball in the fairway,” Woods would say after the primary spherical. “From there, you can’t attack these pins, the pins you can attack. I was just playing real defensive golf. … Augusta’s fairways are pretty big and I couldn’t hit them. So obviously, that was pretty bad.”

On the par-4 ninth gap, Woods pulled his tee shot into the timber as soon as once more. His strategy shot hit the inexperienced however then rolled again into the green. After a so-so chip, he missed a 10-footer. He settled for a bogey and carded a 4-over 40 on the primary 9.

“I knew one thing above all as I walked to the 10th tee: My start wasn’t going to finish me,” Woods wrote in “The 1997 Masters: My Story.” “I didn’t play well at all, not at the start anyway. I shot that 40, and I was bewildered and furious as I walked to the 10th tee. I was trying to think about what had just happened. I needed to figure out what went so wrong on the front nine.”

Woods’ issues off the tee needed to be driving him mad. There had been nothing mistaken along with his swing in follow rounds or on the vary within the days main as much as the match. He was assured in his swing going into his first main championship as an expert, however not a lot in his placing.

The evening earlier than the primary spherical, Woods stood within the bed room the place his father, Earl, was sleeping. Earl Woods was recovering from triple bypass surgical procedure in February 1997. Earl’s physician had urged him to not journey to Augusta, however he wasn’t going to overlook his son’s first Masters as an expert.

“Now, the evening before the first round, he was in bed,” Woods wrote in his e-book. “I needed help. I grabbed three balls and got into my putting posture as he lay there in bed, and asked him if he saw anything.”

Earl Woods informed his son, “Your hands are too low. Lift them up. Get that little arch in your hands like you always do.”

It was a superb tip. Woods putted effectively on the primary 9 holes, however all the things else appeared off in his recreation. As Woods walked to the tenth, his caddie, Mike “Fluff” Cowan, provided him just a few phrases of encouragement.

“That’s just the front nine,” Cowan informed him. “There’s a long way to go in this golf tournament. Just hang in there, see if we can shoot something under par in the second nine, and we’ll be alright.”

Tiger wasn’t the one one stunned by his rating.

“You know, I saw when he was 4-over par, I’d started chuckling,” stated Paul Stankowski, who had the lead for a lot of the primary spherical. “I thought, you know, ‘Nice play, kid,’ you know? I think I shot one or two under on the front nine. I’m thinking, ‘Forty? That’s not a very good start.'”

Cowan had labored with Peter Jacobsen for practically 20 years earlier than transferring to the hotshot Woods’ bag in 1996. He would change into essentially the most well-known caddie on tour whereas teaming with Woods till they cut up in 1999. As they made the flip in 1997 at Augusta Nationwide and headed for essentially the most well-known 9 holes in golf, Cowan wasn’t overly involved about the best way Woods was enjoying.

“It’s golf,” Cowan stated. “It doesn’t always go the way you want it to go. I do know how valuable shooting par is around Augusta. I knew what was ahead of us on the back nine: Two par-5s where he can easily make birdies, so all of a sudden we’re playing a par-34 back nine. And if we shoot 74, a couple over, you’re not out of the golf tournament. And if we can do something better than that, we’re right in the midst of it.”

For Woods to try this, nevertheless, he had to determine what was occurring along with his swing on tee photographs. Within the blink of an eye fixed, he fastened it.

“I decided that my backswing got too long on the front nine, and I didn’t like that feeling,” Woods wrote in his e-book. “I didn’t like it when my backswing even got to parallel. I got out of sync then, and I had to get back on the right path to the ball by using my arms alone, rather than allowing my lower body to carry them through.

“Swinging that method meant I needed to rely upon my timing, which wasn’t dependable. I needed my swing to really feel tight. This supplied me the management I craved. However by management I did not imply that I used to be swinging freely. I may make an uninhibited swing at my greatest, with out mechanical ideas. I needed that feeling.”

Butch Harmon, who was Woods’ swing coach at the time, was walking in the gallery, but wasn’t allowed to say anything to him.

“You realize your golf swing,” Harmon said. “Here are the 2 issues [you teach] whenever you’re coping with the most effective gamers on this planet. It is advisable to train them how you can self-correct in the course of the course of a spherical. That means, you have to know whenever you’re hitting a nasty shot, why you are hitting them, and what it’s a must to do to vary it.

“It’s not as easy as just saying, ‘OK, I need to do this.’ You can feel when you’re out of sync [and] you’re out of position. In his case, the club was a little too far behind him because his body rotation is so fast. You’ve heard him talk about it for years. When he gets bad, he gets stuck.”

Greater than anything, in line with Harmon, his star pupil simply wanted to settle down.

“He was amped up and ready to play,” Harmon stated. “He just was racing. He just wasn’t being himself. I think actually shooting 40 on the front nine turned out to be a good thing. It was kind of a slap in the face, like, ‘Hey, you’re this great player, but this course isn’t just gonna let you take it. You gotta go out and earn this.'”

‘I let go of the anger’

Woods wasn’t the one participant who had struggled on the primary 9. When TV protection began, solely eight gamers had been underneath par. With winds of 15 to 18 mph swirling from the southwest, membership choice turned a guessing recreation. The winds had been additionally drying out Augusta Nationwide’s greens, which had been already among the most treacherous placing surfaces on this planet. Fred {Couples} stated the greens had been “like concrete.” Ken Inexperienced, then one of many higher putters on tour, five-putted the sixteenth inexperienced from 6 ft and had 44 putts in his spherical. Faldo had 20 putts whereas taking pictures 5-over 41 on the primary 9.

As Woods stepped to the tenth tee, he knew he was nonetheless in rivalry, even at 4 over.

“Just before I stepped on the 10th tee, I let go of the anger, and calmed myself,” Woods wrote in his e-book. “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 the motion of my swing, and the tightness I wanted, the sense of controlled power through the ball. I felt free.”

Woods knocked his tee shot with a 2-iron down the center of the green. He hit his strategy shot to fifteen ft and rolled in a birdie putt to maneuver to three over.

“I knew it, from that one swing on the 10th tee,” Woods wrote. “Sometimes in golf everything can turn around, for better or worse, with one swing. This was the swing that was going to turn it around for me.”

After making par on the eleventh, Woods appeared to make an enormous mistake when he hit his tee shot over the inexperienced on the par-3 twelfth. He confronted a troublesome chip shot from 35 ft and again towards Rae’s Creek. Someway, he hit an ideal bump-and-run shot with a 9-iron and the ball tumbled into the opening for a birdie. He raised each fingers over his head and delivered a fist pump, which might change into a trademark celebration for many years to come back.

“We watch Tiger bogey the first hole,” Nantz recalled. “We watch him shoot 40 on the first nine. And then all of a sudden at the 12th hole, things just kinda flipped.”

On the par-5 thirteenth, the ultimate take a look at within the three-hole stretch famously often called Amen Nook, Woods’ second shot with a 6-iron from 196 yards landed on the inexperienced. He two-putted for a birdie and was simply 1 over for the spherical.

On the par-5 fifteenth, after bumping into his good good friend O’Meara, Woods blistered a 349-yard drive over the crest of the hill within the fairway. Left with 151 yards to the opening, he hit pitching wedge to 4 ft. Woods knocked within the eagle putt — and pumped his proper fist once more — to go underneath par for the primary time that week. He was simply two photographs behind chief Paul Azinger after 15 holes.

Woods made par on the sixteenth after which, after hitting a lob wedge from 87 yards, he made a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-4 seventeenth to enhance to six underneath on the second 9.

Heading to the par-4 18th, Woods wanted a birdie to tie Mark Calcavecchia‘s file of 7-under 29 over the second 9 holes within the remaining spherical in 1992 (David Toms would tie the mark within the remaining spherical of 1998). Woods’ 12-foot birdie putt slid previous the opening on 18. He settled for 6-under 30 on the second 9 and 2-under 70 for the spherical.

‘He had an aura’

To say Woods was simply getting began could be like saying the pollen at Augusta Nationwide makes you sneeze. He performed with Azinger within the second spherical (the Masters re-paired gamers by scores after every spherical again then) and trailed chief John Huston by three photographs.

Azinger, the 1993 PGA Championship winner, had by no means performed with Woods and hadn’t even seen him hit balls on the vary. On the second gap, Azinger informed his caddie, Mark Jimenez, “You know, I’ve never seen this guy hit a shot. I’m gonna watch this shot.”

“I got my arms folded with a little bit of an attitude, like, ‘You know, let’s just see what this guy’s all about,'” Azinger stated. “And he hits this tee shot down the left side. It felt like it was this far to the right of that bank of pine trees. And it felt like it was this far below the top of those pine trees. And it was the most dead-straight rocket tee shot I’d ever seen in my life. I looked at my caddie and I was like, ‘Holy crap.’ I couldn’t believe it. I’d never seen a ball leave like that.”

With 5 birdies, one eagle and only one bogey, Woods shot 6-under 66 within the second spherical to take a 3-shot lead over Colin Montgomerie after 36 holes. When Woods grabbed his first lead with an eagle putt on the par-5 thirteenth gap, Nantz opened his microphone and stated on TV, “Let the record show, a little after 5:30 on this Friday, April the 11th, Tiger takes the lead for the first time ever at the Masters.”

“I wanted to kind of mark that moment in history,” Nantz stated. “Because what I was really saying was, ‘This is gonna happen a whole lot. This is gonna happen many times in the years to come, but this is the first time. Mark that point in history.'”

After the spherical, Montgomerie stated he believed the strain would get to Woods on the weekend.

“There’s more to it than hitting the ball a long way, and the pressure’s mounting more and more,” Montgomerie stated. “I’ve got more experience, a lot more experience, in major championships than he has. And hopefully I can prove that.”

As an alternative, Woods had a bogey-free spherical of 7-under 65 to maneuver to fifteen underneath after 54 holes. He missed only one fairway and one inexperienced within the third spherical. His lead elevated to 9 photographs over Italy’s Costantino Rocca. Montgomerie was the participant who buckled whereas enjoying with Woods, taking pictures 2-over 74, to fall right into a tie for sixth at 3 underneath. Abruptly, the Scotsman was a believer.

“There is no chance,” Montgomerie stated after the third spherical. “We’re all human beings here. There’s no chance humanly possible that Tiger is going to lose this tournament. No way.”

After all, Montgomerie was proper. With a remaining spherical of 3-under 69, Woods set the Masters’ 72-hole scoring file of 18-under 270. He was 16 underneath over the ultimate 54 holes. His 12-shot victory was the most important in any main championship for the reason that 1862 Open at Prestwick, which Tom Morris Sr. gained by 13 photographs. Woods would later win the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Seashore by a whopping 15 strokes.

“It just felt like you could have hit him on the head with a baseball bat that week and it would have just bounced off,” stated David Feherty, who was working the fifteenth gap at Augusta Nationwide in his first season with CBS Sports activities in 1997. “He had an aura that week. He just looked completely unbreakable. After I interviewed him on the first day, I thought, ‘Well, this kid has got something really special.’ He just had that look in his eye and that sense of greatness around him.”

‘What he did subsequent is historical past’

Woods’ record-setting efficiency on the 1997 Masters was only the start of a profession wherein he would win 15 main championships, together with 5 Masters titles, and a record-tying 82 instances on the PGA Tour. He was inducted into the World Golf Corridor of Fame in March.

After Woods gained a second inexperienced jacket in 2001 with a 72-hole complete of 16-under 272, Augusta Nationwide famously “Tiger-proofed” its course. In an effort, partially, to maintain Woods from persevering with to dominate essentially the most fabled golf course on this planet, Masters officers moved again tees and added practically 300 yards in size. They added timber to the perimeters of fairways to make them narrower. Regardless of their efforts, he gained three extra inexperienced jackets.

That memorable week in April 1997 impressed future PGA Tour gamers from world wide.

Rory McIlroy, then 7, was watching Woods’ dominance on BBC from his dad and mom’ house in Northern Eire. He, too, remembers Thursday, what occurred and its significance.

“I watched it all,” McIlroy stated. “He shot 40 on the front nine on Thursday, came back in 30, and then just completely blitzed the field after that. Yeah, it was just a complete master class. … I remember sitting on the sofa with my dad and watching it and being able to stay up late to watch him win on a Sunday night before having to go to school on Monday.”

Rising up in San Diego, Charley Hoffman had heard about Woods successful junior tournaments since he was 6. Woods grew up in Southern California and is a 12 months youthful than Hoffman. In his second season at UNLV, Hoffman watched the 1997 Masters at a good friend’s house in Santa Barbara, California.

“You know what I remember more than anything?” Hoffman stated. “His horrible start. Everybody was like, ‘Oh, no.’ And then obviously what he did next is history. He had that terrible start and then his next 63 holes are probably some of the best golf to ever be played.”

Gary Woodland, the 2019 U.S. Open winner, was extra inquisitive about basketball and different sports activities whereas rising up in Topeka, Kansas. That was till he watched the 1997 Masters as a 12-year-old.

“It was the first golf tournament I paid attention to,” Woodland stated. “After he won, I bought the VHS tape and watched it a million times. Where I grew up, playing golf wasn’t cool. Golf became a little bit cooler, and you weren’t too ashamed to say you were a golfer after that. He changed the game for all of us.”

Brandt Snedeker, a 13-time time winner on the PGA Tour, was nonetheless in highschool in Nashville, Tennessee, when Woods gained in 1997. He remembers enjoying golf that morning, earlier than working house to observe the ultimate spherical.

“Golf was more of a niche sport at that time,” Snedeker stated. “Tiger kind of changed the way everybody looked at everything. I don’t ever remember Nicklaus or Palmer winning AP Male Athlete of the Year, and it seemed like Tiger did it 10 straight years after that. It just changed the way people view golf. It became something cool and different.”

Now, a quarter-century after Woods’ first victory at Augusta Nationwide, his opponents and golf followers world wide are anxiously ready for his potential return.

“He made golf, at the highest level, a very, very attractive thing to be involved in,” McIlroy stated. “TV paid more. Sponsors paid more. And then all of a sudden, his peers and colleagues and other players were getting paid more because of that. I think we all have to be very thankful for Tiger Woods and when he came along, and we should all be very fortunate that we played at a time that he was around because we’ve all benefited from him.”

Woods and each PGA Tour participant who adopted him has benefitted from that historic day in April 1997, which began with a whimper and ended with a growth. Even those that had been there that day could not have totally identified the impact it could have.





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