A panel of 15 golf writers were asked to vote on the top five Masters in history. They are being republished this week because the Masters has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 1997 Masters was voted No. 2. The following story moved on was on April 13, 1997.
By RON SIRAK
AP Golf Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Young, gifted, a black man in a white man’s game, Tiger Woods seemed too good to be true. At the Masters, he was even better than advertised.
In one of those rare instances when reality exceeds expectation, Woods won by a record 12 strokes Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club and suddenly the notion that he might be the greatest golfer ever doesn’t seem far-fetched.
Woods’ record-setting Masters victory was as much about Jack Nicklaus as it was about Jackie Robinson. His potential as a record-setter is as great as his role as a social pioneer.
His play was so perfect, so dominant, and the triumph at the Masters so complete that even Woods found it hard to believe.
By the time the smiles he flashed on the final fairway dissolved into the tears of an emotional hug with his father, Woods’ victory had already transcended the fact that he was the first black to win a major professional golf championship.
His record-setting performance made every milestone in golf seem vulnerable.
“I never thought I would have the lead like I did,” Woods said after winning. “You envision dueling it out with Faldo, or Nicklaus or Watson, someone who is always tough to beat down the stretch, or birdieing 16, 17 and 18 to get into a playoff.
“But never in the fashion I did,” he said. “That’s something you never dream of. It’s kind of nice that it became a reality.”
No one could have imagined what the 21-year-old Woods would do here this week.
Closing with a 69, Woods finished at 18-under-par 270, the lowest score ever shot in the Masters and matching the most under par by anyone in any of the four Grand Slam events.
His 12-stroke victory over Tom Kite was not only a Masters record by three strokes, but the greatest winning margin in any major since Tom Morris Sr. won in the 1862 British Open by 13 strokes.
And, for the record, Woods was the youngest by two years ever to win the Masters.
After making his final putt, Woods became a kid again, squeezing his eyes tight, fighting back tears and hugging his father, Earl, who taught him the game, and his mother, Tida.
“My dad said last night, `If you play well and be yourself, it would be the most rewarding round you’ve ever had.′”
It might have been more than that.
“Phenomenal performance,” Nick Faldo, last year’s winner, told Woods. “Welcome to the green jacket.”
Entering Sunday with a nine-stroke lead over Costantino Rocca, the final round was a mere formality which he handled perfectly, playing safely but not shyly.
“He’s out there playing another game on a golf course he is going to own for a long time,” said Nicklaus, who won the Masters at 23 and whose six titles are more than anyone else’s. “I don’t think I want to go back out and be 21 and compete against him.”
What Woods did this week at Augusta means that anything is possible.
The Grand Slam — winning the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA in the same year — is not out of the question for Woods, and breaking the record low score of 59 for a competitive round could be only a matter of time.
A scintillating 66 followed by a 65 in the middle two rounds — when only one other player could shoot a 66 — proved that, and it ended the tournament.
His remarkable accomplishments as a golfer, however, didn’t overshadow yet another significant achievement:
Woods’ victory came just two days shy of 50 years after Jackie Robinson became the first black to play major league baseball.
And surely, 50 years from now, the day Tiger Woods won the Masters will be discussed with just as much awe and perhaps with as much significance as Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier.
Woods, however, credited those who had gone before him:
“I wasn’t the pioneer. Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Ted Rhodes, those are the guys who paved the way. All night I was thinking about them, what they’ve done for me and the game of golf. Coming up 18, I said a little of prayer of thanks to those guys. Those guys are the ones who did it.”
With the same flair for the dramatic he has shown throughout his brief career, Woods not only won a major championship but won at Augusta National, a symbol of a dying era of golf when only the caddies were black.
“I was part of history by being the first black to play here,″ Elder said in front of the Augusta clubhouse as he waited for Woods to tee off. ”I had to be part of history by watching Tiger be the first black to win here.”
Elder broke the color barrier at Augusta in 1975, 14 years after the PGA got rid of its “Caucasian clause,” allowing Sifford to be the first black to play on the pro tour.
“It might have more potential than Jackie Robinson breaking into baseball,” Elder said. “No one will ever turn their head again when a black walks to the first tee.”
Woods’ walk to the first tee on Sunday was greeted not with turned heads, but with craned necks as thousands tried to get a glimpse of the game’s new hero.
Woods made a birdie on No. 2 — one of the par-5 holes he played a total of 13 under par for the week. And he showed his first flaw since Thursday’s 40 on the front nine of the first round in the middle of that nine on Sunday.
He made bogeys on Nos. 5 and 7, both when he hit bunkers, and made a bad swing on No. 8, hitting his second shot into the pine needles left of the fairway.
But a great bump-and-run shot ended 3 feet from the hole and the birdie seemed to give him his rhythm back.
By the times Woods turned into the dangerous stretch of Augusta known as Amen Corner at No. 11, the easy smile of a very happy young man was beginning to break through the shell of concentration in which Woods surrounds himself.
“I’ve never played an entire tournament with my A-game. This is pretty close — 63 holes. Excluding that (the front nine), I pretty much had my A-game the whole week,” he said.
Waves of affection and admiration carried Woods along on the back nine. He beamed when he hit the dangerous 12th green and nearly laughed when he let loose a tremendously long drive on No. 14.
Fans hooted, screamed, bowed as he walked by and even one young boy ran up to him and patted him on the back after he hit from the right rough on No. 15.
The list of accomplishments for Woods is staggering. Three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateur championships, three consecutive U.S. Amateur championships and now four victories — including the Masters — in only 16 tournaments as a pro.
Even the once seemingly impossible mark of 20 major championships by Nicklaus is now vulnerable.
Woods has won major championships as an amateur and a pro in seven consecutive years, bettered only by the eight-year string Bobby Jones had in 1923-30.
He is the youngest to win a major championship since Gene Sarazen won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship at 20 in 1922.
After a shaky start in which he shot a 40 on the front nine of the first round, Woods played the final 63 holes 22 under par. He not only overwhelmed the course with his length — he hit a 9-iron for his second shot on the 555-yard second hole on Saturday and never hit more than a 7-iron into any par-4 all week — he did it with remarkable accuracy, a deft short game and solid putting.
In the middle 36 holes when he put the tournament away, Woods hit 26 of 28 fairways — 93 percent of them. He was not only close to the greens, but in perfect position to do something with it. And he did, surrounding the hole with laser-like iron shots.
His performance on Saturday when his 65 — the low round of the tournament — was another demonstration of his ability to raise his level of play to the demands of the situation.
Woods won his first U.S. Amateur in 1994, when he overcame a record 6-down deficit. He won his third Amateur last year when he came back from 5-down after 18 holes and 2-down with three holes to play.
Woods’ first PGA Tour victory, in only his fifth start as a professional, came in a playoff, as did his win at the Mercedes Championships this year when he nearly made a hole-in-one on the first extra hole to win.
The $486,000 first-place check at the Masters gave Woods $1,756,944 in earnings since turning pro Aug. 27 of last year.
But Woods is in this for more than money. He has one measuring stick — to be the best golfer ever to play the game.
The panel of voters: Jeff Babineau, Morning Read; Michael Bamberger, golf.com; Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post; Iain Carter, BBC; Steve DiMeglio, USA Today; Doug Ferguson, Associated Press; Bob Harig, espn.com; Rex Hoggard, golfchannel.com; Derek Lawrenson, The Daily Mail; Tod Leonard, golfdigest.com; Jim Litke, Associated Press; Jim McCabe, pgatour.com; Bill Pennington, New York Times: Dave Shedloski, golfdigest.com; John Strege, golfdigest.com.