Way before his slams, his swings and scandals, Tiger Woods paved the way as a phenom in the world of golf. He walked into the sport from amateur level with $60 million of sponsorships from Nike and Titleist, the highest in the history of the sport at the time, and took the world by storm.
His first season saw him qualify for the Tour Championship thanks to two wins at the Las Vegas International and the Walt Disney World Classic. He was the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and this was when he started making tournament Sunday appearances in that famous red Nike shirt.
By the time the 1997 Masters rolled around, Tiger had already had two cracks at mastering the Augusta National. He was the Low Amateur in 1995, where he finished T41, and the following year he failed to make the cut. The 1997 Masters was different however.
The first nine holes of his first round were, to be brutally honest, pretty awful. Woods shot a 40 (4+) on the first nine but managed to find four birdies and an eagle on the 15th to salvage a poor start, alongside the six-time major winner Nick Faldo. In his six rounds previous to the 1997 edition, he’d never broken par, something he’d now conquered.
The only way was up.
Round two was spent with another major champion, Paul Azinger, who sat just a place above Tiger on the leaderboard after scoring a 69 on his Thursday outing. His skill was not only snatching a lead, but his ability to consistently stretch it out and open gaps in the leaderboard between first and second. Another five birdies and an eagle saw him score a 66, taking him to the top of the board by three shots, over Colin Montgomerie.
After the round the Scotsman dismissively came out and said: “There’s a lot more to it than hitting the ball a long way around [Augusta.] I have a lot more experience than he has.”
As we’ve seen with some of the greatest sportspeople ever, fuel such as this can be added to the already burning fire to inspire brilliance. Tiger took Colin’s words personally and decided to decimate the competition further. A perfect round of seven birdies and 11 pars put him a whopping nine shots ahead of his closest competitor. Monty himself had fallen to sixth after a poor day out alongside the eventual champion.
Tiger had already won by the time Sunday morning rolled around. There was no chance that he’d drop nine shots in a day. The question was how much would he win by and what records could he break? In the end, a round of 69 was enough to finish 12 strokes ahead of Tom Kite, the runner-up, giving him the largest margin of victory in Masters history. A four day score of 270 or -18 was the then-tournament record until it was broken by Dustin Johnson in 2020.
The win was the most viewed golf event at the time, with an estimated 44 million viewers in the USA watching as Tiger Woods became the youngest and first non-white winner of the Green jacket. 25 years on, a very different world waits with bated breath on the return of a modern sporting hero.