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Witnesses to history

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AUGUSTA, GA - 1997:  Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo of England during the final round of the 1997 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 1997 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/PGA TOUR Archive)

AUGUSTA, GA - 1997: Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo of England during the final round of the 1997 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 1997 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/PGA TOUR Archive)

Tiger’s 12-stroke Masters win 20 years ago was historic – and these guys had an up-close view

    Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin

    Editor’s note (March 30, 2022): This year marks the 25th anniversary of Tiger Woods’ historic win in the 1997 Masters, the first of his five Green Jackets. Woods recorded the largest winning margin (12 strokes) in Masters history and broke the tournament’s 72-hole scoring record. To celebrate another anniversary of this victory, we are re-running this story that ran in 2017 to mark the 20th anniversary.

    There are facts about Tiger Woods’ historic win at the 1997 Masters that almost any golf fan can quickly recite without taxing a single brain cell.

    His 12-stroke margin of victory. The record-setting score of 270, which began with a 4-over 40 on the first nine but was salvaged with a 10-shot improvement on the second nine. And his age – 21, making him the youngest winner in tournament history.

    Statistics can never supersede the memories of the closest witnesses, though. That’s why, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Woods’ landmark victory, we talked to the men who had the best seats in the house that week at Augusta National.

    Woods arrived at Augusta National having won three of his first nine starts as a professional, but there were still skeptics who wanted to withhold judgment until observing him on golf’s largest stages.

    The Masters was his first major since turning professional – you may recall “Hello, world” – the previous August. He arrived at Augusta National full of confidence, having won three of his first nine starts as a pro. The Friday before he left, Woods had an indication he might play well, having shot 59 on his home course at Isleworth in Orlando, Florida.

    Yet there were skeptics who wanted to withhold judgment until observing Tiger on golf’s largest stages.

    He provided four rounds of proof, dominating the Masters field by hitting drives into uncharted territory and exhibiting deft touch with the game’s shortest shots. It resulted in a performance that forever changed the game.

    We spoke to Woods’ playing partners from the first three rounds – Nick Faldo, Paul Azinger and Colin Montgomerie – as well as the two players in Sunday’s penultimate pairing, Tom Kite and Paul Stankowski. Here’s what they remember from that week:


    Tradition runs deep at the Masters, the only major that returns to the same site each year. The Green Jacket, Par-3 Contest and honorary first tee shots are just a few of the annual rites at Augusta National.

    The pairing of the defending champion and the reigning U.S. Amateur champion is another yearly occurrence. Faldo won the 1996 Masters after overcoming Greg Norman’s six-shot lead, while Woods had claimed his third consecutive U.S. Amateur that year.

    The U.S. Amateur champion is exempt into the Masters only if he remains an amateur (Colt Knost is the last U.S. Amateur champ to turn pro and forego the Masters invitation, which he did after his 2007 win. He has yet to play the Masters). Woods turned pro four days after his win at Pumpkin Ridge, but he quickly regained his Masters invitation by winning at the Las Vegas Invitational in his fifth pro start.

    Since Woods was now in the Masters by virtue of his professional accomplishments, there was no guarantee Woods would play alongside Faldo in the first round.

    In his new book, “The 1997 Masters: My Story,” Woods writes that he went into the office of Augusta National chairman Jack Stephens on the Monday of tournament week and asked if he could still be paired with Faldo. “Son, you’ve earned the right,” was Stephens’ reply, according to the book.

    “I left his office feeling really pumped,” Woods wrote. The week was off to a good start.

    Faldo was a three-time Masters winner (1989-90, 1996). Woods had already won three PGA TOUR titles since turning pro the previous August. The marquee pairing didn’t get off to a good start, though. Woods shot 40 on the first nine, and Faldo was one worse.

    “We didn’t see a lot of each other because we were both in the trees,” Faldo said. He finished the first round with a 75.

    It was a harbinger of what awaited for the men who played with Woods that week. It may have just been coincidence, or a result of the unnerving nature of his dominance, but no one broke par while paired with him that week. His playing partners combined to shoot 9-over 297 (75-73-74-75), 27 strokes worse than his winning score. Faldo and Montgomerie, two World Golf Hall of Famers, each shot 81 the day after their first round with Woods.

    As impressive as Woods’ 30 on Thursday’s second nine was, what followed from him surprised everyone on the grounds.

    “We never expected what he was going to do the next three days,” Faldo said.

    Round 1 leaderboard

    1. John Huston, 67 (36-31)
    2. Paul Stankowski, 68 (35-33)
    3. Paul Azinger, 69 (33-36)
    4. Tiger Woods, 70 (40-30)
    T33. Nick Faldo, 75 (41-34)


    Paul Azinger had heard the hype about Woods – who hadn’t? – but he’d also seen plenty of other players turn pro and immediately have outsized expectations heaped on their shoulders. There was a legion of players before Woods who’d been saddled with the “next Nicklaus” tag only to fall well short of the Golden Bear’s gilded standard. Amateur accomplishments, even as impressive as Woods’ six consecutive USGA titles, don’t mean anything to professional peers.

    Azinger was 37 years old when the 1997 Masters rolled around. His most recent win, and the 11th of his career, had come four years earlier, at the 1993 PGA Championship.

    Azinger and Woods hadn’t met before the Masters. Azinger had never seen Woods strike a shot until the second hole of their round at Augusta National.

    “I didn’t see him on the first hole because I was busy hitting perfect shots and making a 6,” Azinger said. “I remember thinking (on No. 2), ‘I can’t wait to see Tiger hit this shot.’ I assumed he was going to aim at the bunker and draw it and possibly carry the bunker. Instead, he hit this bullet that left like it was shot out of a cannon, honestly. That’s what it sounded like. It went down the left side, it was about three feet under the height of the pines and eight feet right of the pines and it was dead straight. And then he had 6- or 7-iron into the green. I leaned over to my caddie and said, ‘Holy crap! That was unreal.’

    “I was hitting my driver up with his 3-wood. They went about the same. He was hitting a lot of 3-woods. He hit pitching wedge to 13 and 15. I hit 8-iron to 13 and 15 that year. It was playing racetrack fast, before all the rough and the trees.”

    Woods shot 66 that day. He made one bogey but shot 32 on the second nine after going eagle-birdie-birdie on Nos. 13-15. He’d shot 10-under 62 in his first two trips around Augusta National’s second nine (six birdies, two eagles).

    “To come out there and have that kind of power and accuracy, and that putter came with it, it was astonishing, really. He did it with a lot of heart and a lot of putts,” Azinger said. “He’s the best putter that anybody’s ever seen.”

    It wasn’t until Woods completed his 12-shot win, though, that Azinger appreciated what he had seen.

    “I felt like, at the time, that he hadn’t proven anything yet. I wasn’t awestruck by it,” Azinger said. “In golf, you can hit it like that and still not be ‘The Man.’ But over time, two or three days later, you realized he was the real deal. I realized he was the real deal by Sunday night.”

    Round 2 leaderboard

    1. Tiger Woods, 70-66 (-8)
    2. Colin Montgomerie, 72-67 (-5)
    3. Constantino Rocca, 71-69 (-4)
    T4. Fred Couples, 72-69 (-3)
    T4. Jose Maria Olazabal, 71-70 (-3)
    T4. Jeff Sluman, 74-67 (-3)


    Colin Montgomerie began the third round just three strokes behind Woods as they teed off in Saturday’s final group. The day got off to a good start, but by the time they walked off 18, a demoralized Montgomerie declared an end to the 1997 Masters. He was now 12 shots behind Woods, who held a nine-shot lead over his closest competitor.

    “I out-drove him on the first,” Montgomerie says with a bit of self-deprecation because it was a fortuitous bounce -- his ball landed on the downslope just past the fairway bunker – that allowed his ball to scoot past Woods’. “That’s the last I saw of him all day.”

    The second hole was the true harbinger of what awaited Montgomerie. He hit 4-wood for his second shot. Woods hit 9-iron.

    “From then on, from that second hole onwards, I thought, ‘Hang on a minute. This is something extraordinary,’” said Montgomerie, who was 33 years old at the 1997 Masters. “It opened my eyes, and opened the world’s eyes, to this golfer we hadn’t seen the likes of before.”

    While Woods would make seven birdies in his bogey-free 65, Montgomerie would shoot “my normal 74, which, to be honest, … I thought was quite good.”

    Woods ended the day by hitting sand wedge to the last hole, his ball spinning back to within 3 feet of the hole.
    In the press room, Montgomerie read the Masters field its last rites.

    “All I have to say is one brief comment,” he said. “There is no chance. We’re all human beings here. There’s no chance humanly possible that Tiger is going to lose this tournament. No way.”

    The ramifications of that Saturday round were long-lasting for the future World Golf Hall of Famer.

    “(It) really finished my career in more ways than one,” he said last week.

    Round 3 leaderboard

    1. Tiger Woods, 70-66-65 (-15)
    2. Constantino Rocca, 71-69-70 (-6)
    3. Paul Stankowski, 68-74-69 (-5)
    T4. Tom Kite, 77-69-66 (-4)
    T4. Tom Watson, 75-68-69 (-4)
    MC. Nick Faldo, 74-81


    Two years earlier, Constantino Rocca shocked the golf world when he made a 60-foot putt to force a playoff with John Daly at The Open Championship. Rocca fell to his knees and raised his fists to the heavens when the putt fell. Daly went on to claim the Claret Jug, but Rocca’s exuberance was unforgettable.

    There was no room for final-round drama this time.

    Rocca finished the third round by making a 20-foot birdie putt to bump Stankowski from the last group. That birdie simply shrunk Woods’ lead into the single digits.

    It also led to another near-miss for Stankowski. He would’ve ridden shotgun in Sunday’s final group if he had made his 10-foot birdie putt at 18, or if Rocca had missed his. On Thursday, Stankowski held the lead until John Huston holed out from the trees right of the 18th fairway to make eagle and shoot 67, denying Stankowski the crystal vase that’s awarded for each day’s low score.

    He’d played the first round in the group ahead of Woods, and admits that he chuckled to himself when he saw Woods had shot 40 on the first nine. “Nice playing,” he said to himself. Now Woods was out of reach.

    Stankowski and Kite played in Sunday’s second-to-last pairing, and Stankowski had more than a high finish on his mind. Kite was the 1997 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, and Stankowski, who’d won earlier that year at the Hawaiian Open, was aware that Sunday would serve as an informal audition. It didn’t stop the two-time TOUR winner from trying to get a peek at the phenom behind him, though. Stankowski often looked back down the fairway to find the unfathomable place where Woods had placed his tee shot.

    “I'd look back a lot as I'd finish putting out and walk to the next tee box. I'd check where he was,” Stankowski said. “I'm a fan of golf and always have been, so I've watched golf since I was a little kid. And even during my career, if I missed a cut I went home and I'd tune it to see what happened.

    “So I was eager to watch history as well. Just being in the atmosphere and being a part of the action, and a part of history, is pretty special.”

    Stankowski shot 74 in the final round to fall to fifth place, while Kite fired a final-round 70. For all the attention surrounding Woods’ surge after shooting 40 on his first nine holes, Kite had authored quite the comeback as well. He played the final three rounds in 11-under after shooting a first-round 77 to, in his words, “beat all the mortals.”

    Kite has played a role in two of the most famous Sundays in Masters history. He was runner-up to Jack Nicklaus in 1986 and, eleven years later, finished second once again, albeit a dozen shots back.

    “When you know the outcome of the tournament, it’s not as exciting. The only excitement was knowing that you had a superstar that was bursting onto the scene,” Kite said.

    Stankowski said the significance of the week hit him after watching the news coverage in the days following the tournament.

    “Then you realize, my gosh, this transcends golf, which makes it even more special,” he said. And, while Stankowski left Augusta National frustrated with his final round, he is happy he played a big part in one of golf’s most memorable weeks.

    “When I look back at the picture of him with his fist pumped and the scoreboard in the background, that gives me a good feeling,” Stankowski said. “My name’s up there near the top of the leaderboard when history was being made. That will never go away.”

    Final leaderboard

    1. Tiger Woods, 70-66-65-69 (-18)
    2. Tom Kite, 77-69-66-70 (-6)
    3. Tommy Tolles, 72-72-72-67 (-5)
    4. Tom Watson, 75-68-69-72 (-4)
    T5. Constantino Rocca, 71-69-70-75 (-3)
    T5. Paul Stankowski, 68-74-69-74 (-3)
    T28. Paul Azinger, 69-73-77-74 (+5)
    T30. Colin Montgomerie, 72-67-74-81 (+6)

    Mike McAllister, Dave Senko and Gary Van Sickle contributed to this report.

    Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.

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