Monday, April 4, 2011
Master of the Masters: 1997
For the next three days, we will be rolling out a small series called "Master of the Masters," highlighting some of the best and most clutch performances in the history of this great tournament. Today we focus on Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters, and how that breakout performance captured the world.
A lot of people probably don't realize this; for all that Tiger Woods did right during that special week at Augusta National in 1997, his first nine holes on Thursday were absolutely horrendous. Tiger opened his Masters with a 4-over 40, making the turn not with winning on his mind, but just hope that he could salvage a really pitiful performance thus far in his first Masters as a professional.
That thought quickly changed when Tiger came in with a 6-under 30 to open with 70. It was that dialed in nine holes that most likely gave him the confidence to go out the rest of the week and run away from the field. on Friday, Tiger worked around Augusta National in 66 shots, and bettered that by one on Saturday to give himself a hefty lead heading into Sunday.
Sunday was basically an 18-hole parade for the young golfer, as Tiger meticulously plotted around the famed links with a level of smarts and strategy that we would soon realize was typical for Woods when he got big leads, but we weren't used to at the time. His Sunday 69 was good enough for a 12 shot win at Augusta National, landing him his first major championship and showing us that all the hype on this kid was well worth it.
As we've seen the last few years, it isn't easy for young players to close out major championships. We've seen the most talented get in the hunt at some of these events, but to actually cross the finish line ahead of everyone else is a tall task for young nerves. Tiger never had to worry about that, because he never put himself in that position. The 1997 Masters was a domination for the ages. He broke 20 Masters records that week, and tied six others. He got people chatting about how Tiger could win 10 Masters if the golf course continued to be set up that way, with no rough. He forced the heads of the Masters to actually change things that had never been changed, and those four rounds brought about a term called "Tiger-proofing" that still rings true to this day.
For all the things we think about Tiger now, it'll be weeks like this that people will chat about in 100 years from now, when Woods is long gone and his legacy is all that's left. Nobody should win the Masters by 12 shots, but Tiger did it, and did it with humility. The embrace with father Earl after the last putt dropped is the type of image that will forever be burned in the mind of golf fans, and as it should be.