Tiger Woods burst on to the professional golf scene in 1996 at the Greater Milwaukee Open. It was at Augusta National in 1997, however, when he truly announced himself on the world stage.
20 years, 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour wins later, the great man is nowhere near the player he once was, and is a huge doubt for this year’s Masters. It is a shame that most of the youth of today would have never seen the 41-year-old in his prime. Because for an 11-year spell, he was unparalleled in his brilliance.
To see him in the midst of his slow, and sometimes painful, decline is hard viewing, especially for golf fans who grew up watching Woods dominate week after week.
Tiger’s Injury Timeline
In a game where compliments are dished out too easily, and the term ‘great’ gets banded about with far too much frequency, the four-time Masters champion is one of the few who genuinely deserve to be classed in that bracket. It was 20-years-ago when Woods’ fellow pros began to not only take notice of the superstar in the making, but realise that something special was happening.
Colin Montgomerie trailed the then 21-year-old by three shots heading into the weekend at the ’97 Masters, only to finish a distant 24 strokes adrift of Woods at the end of the tournament. The eight-time European order of merit winner had riled the young buck with comments he made after Friday’s round, suggesting that his young opponent may find it difficult over the weekend due to his lack of experience.
Woods subsequently went on to dispel that notion, and Montgomerie told reporters at a teleconference this week just how significant that weekend in 1997 proved to be, as quoted by Golf Digest:
“The second hole was frightening. I hit my drive to the brow of the hill on the second, and he was down — he must have been 150 yards ahead of me and hit a 9-iron to the back. From that second hole onwards, I thought, hang on a minute. This is something extraordinary. That was the one shot that really springs to mind. This is a game that I had not seen before and none of us had.”
Montgomerie can be safe in the knowledge that it was not only him and his fellow competitors who sensed the dawning of a seismic shift in the game of golf on that April day two decades ago.
Every single golfing fan tuned into their TV that afternoon, young and old, witnessed one of the most complete performances in Major Championship history. We are unlikely to see Tiger ever emulate that kind of golf again, and that would be a real shame.
But if there ever was anyone capable of defying the odds, it’s the guy in red.