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By Travelin’ Joe Passov
As our friend and Diamante course architect Tiger Woods approaches the 2019 Masters this month in search of a fifth victory, let’s re-live the memories of his first four titles.
1997 Tiger’s First Roar
At the 1996 Masters, no less than Jack Nicklaus predicted that Tiger Woods would win more Masters than he and Arnold Palmer combined (10) had won. One year later, the 21-year-old Tiger took the first gigantic leap toward fulfilling the Nicklaus prophecy.
Shaking off an opening nine 40, Woods’ 70-66 start staked him to a three-shot lead. Second-place Colin Montgomerie questioned Woods’ experience and Tiger responded with a third-round 65, bludgeoning Monty, the field and Augusta National into submission. He stretched his lead to nine, concluding the round emphatically with driver, sand wedge to one foot at the uphill, 405-yard, par-4 18th.
“He’s just taking the course apart,” said an astonished Nicklaus, speaking for everyone, awestruck at the 186-yard 9-iron Woods hit into the par-5 second or the pitching wedge he used for his second shot at the 500-yard, par-5 15th.
The fourth round was a walk in the park. In three-putting not a single green for 72 holes, Tiger displayed touch to match his power. His final-round 69 made him the youngest Masters champion and set new records for low total (18-under-par 270) and margin of victory (12 strokes). More importantly to some, he became the first minority to win a major. Walking up 18, Tiger offered a prayer of thanks to trailblazing pioneers Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder and Teddy Rhodes. After knocking in his four-foot par putt for the record at 18, Tiger wept as he embraced his mentor—his father Earl. Tiger Woods had sledgehammered every Masters barrier. Golf’s face had changed forever.
2001 The Tiger Slam
A golf fan couldn’t have asked for anything better as Sunday’s final round of the Masters unfolded. The game’s greatest player, Tiger Woods, held a one-shot lead over the second-best player, Phil Mickelson. Lefty was seeking his first major championship. Tiger was seeking immortality. He had captured the final three majors in the year 2000. At age 25, a win at the 2001 Masters would give Woods four consecutive major championships, a feat never before achieved by a professional golfer. Mickelson kept it close—and David Duval kept it closer, actually tying Tiger with three holes to play. However, both Duval and Mickelson bogied the par-3 16th setting the stage for Tiger to hold on for the final bumpy ride.
It looked as if Woods would coast, thanks to his usual brand of super-heroics. He nearly holed an 8-iron at the brutal par-4 11th, but he wasn’t complaining about his kick-in birdie. He slugged an 8-iron from 182 yards to reach the par-5 13th in two, and two-putted for birdie. Then, shockingly, he missed a two-foot birdie putt at 15. It didn’t faze him.
“When I missed that putt at 15, I kept telling myself I knew I still had a one-shot lead,” said Woods. “I told myself I needed to make one more birdie. When I didn’t hear any roars on No. 17, I knew David didn’t make birdie and the best he could do was get to 15-under.”
Duval nearly did. He stiffed his approach to eight feet at 18, but pulled his birdie attempt. Now all Woods had to do was par the 18th for the victory. He did one better. After crushing a 330-yard drive, uphill, he wedged from 75 yards to 18 feet, and in Tiger fashion, willed in the birdie putt for a two-shot triumph. To Woods, four straight majors felt just as amazing as a Grand Slam, which would have been winning all four in the same calendar year. Said Augusta National Chairman Hootie Johnson, “We have witnessed the greatest golfing feat of our time.” To Jack Nicklaus, it was “the Fiscal Slam.” To the rest of the golf world, it was—and always will be—the Tiger Slam.
2002 Back-to-Back Tiger
By age 26, been-there-done-that moments were piling up for Tiger Woods. One feat he hadn’t accomplished, however, was repeating as Masters champ. Only two players had ever gone back-to-back at Augusta, Jack Nicklaus in 1965-66 and Nick Faldo in 1989-90. Make that three. On April 14, 2002, Woods checked another box. He defended the title he had captured in 2001. It had all the suspense of a church bake sale.
During a rainy, mud-stained event that forced Tiger to play 26 holes on Saturday, on a golf course that had been “Tiger-proofed” (again), with trees planted and nine holes lengthened, no one had any answers for golf’s dominant Number 1. By Saturday night, a dream leaderboard had emerged, with Woods and 2001 U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen (World No. 4) tied at the top at 11-under-par 205, followed by four others ranked in the World Top 7, Vijay Singh (7th), Ernie Els (3rd), Sergio Garcia (5th) and Phil Mickelson (2nd). By Sunday night, it was a dream deferred for everybody except Woods.
On a dull final round with little movement at the top, Woods dropped an enormous wet blanket on the field. His 71 was sufficient to down Goosen by three and Mickelson by four, but it may as well have been 13 and 14, so complete was his beat-down. “You just know Tiger is not going to make any big mistakes,” said Goosen, whose three-putt bogey at the first hole set the stage for failure, as Woods was opening with par-birdie-birdie.
Added a dazed Mickelson, “When other guys are up there, you know that if you can just stay around there, there’s a good chance they might come back two or three shots. But Tiger doesn’t seem to ever do that.” After Woods chipped in for birdie from behind the green at the par-3 6th, everybody was playing for second—yet again.
2005 Tiger Being Tiger
The 2005 Masters did not start well for Tiger Woods, a round of 74 that included a putt into the water at 13. It certainly ended well. Woods scorched Augusta National in 65 strokes in round 3, catapulting him past second-round leader Chris DiMarco who faded to 74. No way Tiger loses a three-shot lead at the Masters, right? Hmmm…Don’t be too quick in the predictions department.
DiMarco remained three shots behind with nine to play. That’s when the script changed. After the 11th hole, DiMarco had shaved Woods’ lead to one. When both birdied the 15th, it stayed at one. Then came the 16th—and the greatest chip in Masters history, with the possible exception of Larry Mize, who holed a miracle short shot to beat Greg Norman in the 1987 playoff.
The events at 16 started with what Woods called, “a crappy 8-iron” that he yanked over the green, which left him on a bank facing a difficult, delicate shot, 50 feet from the hole. Woods knew what he had to do. He picked the club up steeply and lobbed it 25 feet left of the hole into a vast ridge that bisected the impossibly fast green. After making a sharp right turn, Woods’ ball trickled s-l-o-w-l-y toward the hole. It stopped on the edge of the cup, and stayed there for 1.8 seconds, with CBS zooming in on the logo…then toppled in for an improbable birdie.
“Oh my goodness!…OH WOW! IN YOUR LIFE, have you ever seen anything like that?!” was the memorable call from announcer Verne Lundquist. Short answer? No.
Even more inexplicably, Woods then bogeyed the final two holes. When DiMarco canned his 10-foot par putt at the final hole, a sudden death playoff ensued. To no one’s surprise, Woods ended matters on the first hole, Augusta’s 18th, rolling in a 15-footer for birdie to capture his fourth green jacket. Years later, a philosophical DiMarco reflected on what had taken place at the 70th hole.
“Tiger knocking it in was certainly not what I was expecting, but I had prepared for it,” said DiMarco. “It was Tiger Woods, and it is expected that stuff like that happens to him.”
Indeed it does.