The Masters that turned everything upside down
Nothing would ever be the same after Tiger’s 12-shot win in 1997
April 06, 2020
By Mark Cannizzaro, author, Seven Days in Augusta
- April 06, 2020
- Tigers Woods celebrates winning the Masters Tournament in 1997. (Steve Munday/Allsport)
Everyone associated with the game – players, media, fans – has his or her own memory of what went down that week in 1997 and what it meant to them. It remains one of those rare events where you can still remember where you were and what you were doing when it happened.
Tiger Woods winning the Masters at age 21, and in record fashion.
“In that win that week, he checked all the boxes,” Charles Howell III said. “He’s young, he hit it far, he hit it straight, he had a phenomenal short game. He did it all, and he did it on the biggest, hardest stage in the world. I think in time we’ll look back on that week as sort of a turning point for the professional game.”
Ernie Els, who in later years would become a frequent major championship bridesmaid to Woods, said he remembered seeing Woods on the range after that roller-coaster opening-round 70 that began with the 40 on the front nine and ended with a 30 on the back, “and I could see the excitement and the joy” in Woods’ face.
“He knew he’d won the first hurdle,” Els said. “I think he knew then that it was over.”
Nick Faldo, the defending champion who was paired with Woods in that opening round, knew it was over, too.
“The way I analyzed it, he went out in 40, came back in 30 and we didn’t see him for dust for another 14 years,” Faldo said. “That was the start of Tiger and the start of his dominance. It was a special day. You go out in 40 and then you win by 12. That’s something pretty unique.”
Faldo shot 75 that day and followed it with an 81 and missed the cut.
BOOK EXCERPT: SEVEN DAYS IN AUGUSTA
“Seven Days in Augusta: Behind the Scenes at The Masters” -- the new book by author and longtime golf writer Mark Cannizzaro – spans everything from the Par 3 Contest to Amen Corner to Butler Cabin and beyond. This excerpt focusing on Tiger Woods’ record-setting first Masters win is presented with permission from Triumph Books. For more information or to order a copy, please click here.
Paul Azinger, an 11-time PGA TOUR winner with one major championship and now a TV analyst for NBC and FOX, was paired with Woods in the second round. He began the day one shot ahead of Woods and ended it six shots behind after Woods’ 66 to his 73.
“I’d never seen Tiger actually make a full swing and hit a shot — driving range, golf course, nothing —maybe on TV,” Azinger recalled. “I said to my caddie on the second hole — there was a little bit of a wait — and I said, ‘You know, I’ve never seen this kid hit a shot. I’m going to watch this.’ I’d heard about how far he hits it. That ball left four feet underneath the top of the trees, which is miles high, never curved an inch, about five feet right of the trees.
“It was the most beautiful, picturesque drive I had ever seen in my entire life. I just looked at my caddie and whispered to him, ‘Holy s---.’ That was all I could say. He hit 6- or 7-iron in there to the right of the green, was all ticked off, chunked his chip, took the club and slammed it in the bag, and it went straight to the bottom. It sounded like a drum. I can remember this buzz of the crowd. It was the most unique buzz. He then chipped in for birdie. He shot the easiest 66 that I’d ever seen.
“I hit 3-wood, 8-iron to 13 and he hit 3-wood, pitching wedge. I hit driver, 8-iron into 15, he hit driver, pitching wedge. We were two clubs apart, which blew my mind that I was two clubs shorter than anybody on TOUR. I was like, ‘Really? Two clubs? Are you kidding me?’ One club is one thing, two clubs? You can’t defend against being two clubs shorter than somebody. You’re not going to beat that guy.
“It intimidated me a little bit. That’s why I tried not to hit balls near Tiger on the practice range, because I wanted to feed my confidence.”
Azinger said after that second round he’d played with Woods, he thought, “I don’t know how anybody’s going to beat that.”
“I didn’t jump the gun and predict he would win,” Azinger said. “But in my head, I was thinking, ‘Jack [Nicklaus] was right saying that he’s going to win the Masters 10 times.’ I believe him. The bigger the event, the higher he’ll raise the bar. He’s Michael Jordan in long pants.”
On Friday night, Colin Montgomerie, who was three shots behind Woods at the time, waxed poetic about the fact that the young Woods had never been in the position of taking a major championship lead into the weekend, and how everything changes on the weekend of a major.
“The pressure is mounting,” Montgomerie said in what clearly was a public warning to Woods. “And I have a lot more experience in major championships.”
Woods, in his book “The 1997 Masters: My Story,” revealed that Montgomerie’s words “definitely motivated me.” He shot 65 that Saturday to Montgomerie’s 74, and after the round, Montgomerie spoke as if he’d seen a ghost.
“All I have to say is one brief comment today,” he told reporters. “There is no chance … we’re all human beings here … (and) there is no chance humanly possible that Tiger is going to lose this tournament. No way.”
Montgomerie, surely rattled by the thumping he took from Woods on Saturday, shot 81 on Sunday. For Woods it was merely a coronation; playing with Italy’s Costantino Rocca, he shot 69 to win by a record 12 shots.
Like millions around the world, Gary Woodland, then a teenager in Kansas, watched it all play out on TV and decided then and there he wanted to become a professional golfer. “That week changed everything for me,” Woodland said.
It did for a lot of others, too.