“Tiger Woods, child of destiny, man of the moment, golfer for the age, became the first black man to win the Masters yesterday.”
Those were the words I wrote on the evening of April 13, 1997, trying to explain the most historic victory in the game of golf.
That Tiger Woods was the first black man to win the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, a club that once excluded blacks from playing in the tournament and being members, was monumental.
That he won the tournament by an astounding 12 shots with a record score of 270 was nearly beyond belief.
That he was the first player to win a major in his first appearance as a professional, and also the youngest to win the Masters at 21 years and 104 days, signaled a dominance of the game that was sure to come.
Colin Montgomerie heralded that thought during his sheepish news conference on Saturday night after playing with Woods in the third round and being thoroughly trounced.
"I have one brief comment," said Montgomerie, who started the third round three strokes behind Woods and finished the day 12 strokes behind him: "There is no chance for all human beings. No possible chance that Tiger Woods is going to lose. No way."
It didn’t look that way after his first nine holes on Thursday. He shot a fat 40, 4-over par, on the front side. Making the cut was more of an issue. Then he shot a smooth 30 on the back nine for an opening 70. He went from being contentious to being in contention in a little over two hours.
And he never let up. He played the final 63 holes in 22 under par. He put down a 3 on his scorecard 26 times over 72 holes, a total that included 10 pars, 14 birdies and two eagles.
Sunday night, in the Masters' elegant media facility and wearing his 42-long Green Jacket, Woods said, "It means a lot, you know. It's something I always dreamed of. Something any kid has dreamed of, to win the Masters, and I did it.”
When Woods stepped on the grounds of Augusta National Golf in April 1997, it was for his third start in the Masters and first as a professional. He had turned pro eight months prior and won three of his first nine PGA Tour tournaments. It was as if electricity was coursing through the azaleas and crackling through the pines. The pressure was immense, but it was exactly what he had been raised to do by his father, Earl, and mother, Kultida.
There also was an air of jealousy within the professional ranks for a kid who turned pro with millions in endorsement money and a private jet at his disposal and his own private security guard.
“We were really aware because when Tiger came on tour most of the writers wouldn’t even give you the courtesy of asking one question,” said Nick Faldo in 2017 on the 20th anniversary of Woods' first Masters title. Faldo was the defending champion and would be playing with Woods, the U.S. Amateur champion, in the first round. “It was straight in, ‘What do you think of Tiger? What’s he gonna do?’ It was so total Tiger, it was unbelievable.
“To be honest, it was annoying. The attention was unbelievable. He’s used it in his favor. No player before had ever walked to the first tee with eight policemen around him to lead him to the tee. It was a whole different aura around him. It was amazing.”
As became the normal for Woods, he shrugged off any distractions.
“I don’t care what anybody else says, as always,” Woods said. “I just came here to win.”
His first two Masters were as an amateur and Stanford student. He had won all there was to win in amateur golf: three times the U.S. Junior champion, three times the U.S. Amateur champion and an NCAA champion. Even though he said at the 1995 Masters that he intended to spend four years at Stanford, the millions, stardom and his destiny beckoned.
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer played a practice round with Woods during the 1996 Masters. Nicklaus, the six-time winner of the Green Jacket, was duly impressed and as always not hesitant to voice his opinion of Woods’ prospects. He said Woods could win 10 Masters, as much as he and Palmer combined.
Lee Elder, the first black player in the Masters in 1975, made sure to be there in 1997 for what would be Woods’ victory lap on Sunday, despite Elder getting a speeding ticket between Atlanta and Augusta.
Before the round, Elder, ever gracious, came to say a few words of encouragement at the short-game practice green. "That was special," Woods said. "For him and Charlie Sifford and Ted Rhodes, I was able to live their dream.”
“This will be one glorious and happy day for all blacks," said Elder, not so much as a boast but as a fact. "No one will be turning their heads when a black golfer goes to the first tee anymore."
For Nicklaus, the facts about Tiger Woods were clear. Woods said from the very outset that Nicklaus’ record 18 major championships (six Masters, five PGAs, four U.S. Opens, three British Opens) was his career goal.
After the first of Woods’ 15 major victories, Nicklaus said: "Tiger is out there playing another game. He's playing a golf course he'll own for a long time. This young man will win many more. I don't think I'd want to go back out and be 21 and compete against him. It's not my time anymore. It's his.”
Recapping Tiger Woods’ victory in the 1997 Masters:
Tiger was 4 over on the front nine holes, but rebounded with a score of 30 on the back nine to finish with a 2-under 70, three shots back of first-round leader John Huston.
Player Score To par
John Huston 67 -5
Paul Stankowski 68 -4
Paul Azinger 69 -3
Tiger Woods 70 -2
After a bogey at 13, Tiger rallied with birdies at 16 and 17 and finished 6 under to give him his first lead in a Major championship.
Tiger Woods 70-66 -- 136 -8
Colin Montgomerie 72-67 – 139 -5
Constantino Rocca 71-69 – 140 -4
The tournament basically was over after Woods’ near-perfect round of 65 – with seven birdies. His 201 score for 54 holes was seven shots clear of Rocca.
Tiger Woods 70-66-65 – 201 -15
Constantino Rocca 71-69-70 – 210 -6
Paul Stankowski 68-74-69 – 211 -5
Woods won his first major, 12 shots ahead of runner-up Tom Kite. At the time, it was the largest winning margin in a major.
Tiger Woods 70-66-65-69 – 270 -18
Tom Kite 77-69-66-70 – 282 -6
Tommy Tolles 72-72-72-67 -- 283 -5