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Masters Moments: Tiger arrives with exclamation point, 1997

by | Senior Writer

To think his mind-blowing bio all began, really, with a 40 on the front nine of his first major championship as a professional. By the time the 1997 Masters week was over, Tiger Woods had become a sports and cultural earthquake.

It wasn't so much a tournament as it was a coronation. Everybody learned that the new king wore red on Sundays, probably to hide the arterial spray he drew from his other competitors.

Woods followed up that shaky 40 with a blistering 30 on the back nine and by the time 54 holes were in the books, he held a nine-stroke lead. Sunday's victory wasn't a matter of who, but how many. Woods ultimately won the first of his 14 major championships by a record 12 shots, finishing a Masters-record 18 under.

Mike Cowan, Woods' caddie at the time, was asked last week what he recalled most about the week.

"Well, we didn't have a three-putt," he said.

A momentous accomplishment in itself on those greens, to be sure, but there was far more to the story than execution between the ropes. As Wikipedia so aptly put it on its citation describing the week, "Woods became the first non-white person to win the Masters."

Non-white? Even then, the player and person -- not to mention his feats -- were hard to describe. That Woods, whose father had African-American blood, won at a place where players or members of color weren't welcome for decades, made the celebration all the more compelling. The club had admitted its first black member just six years earlier.

Clifford Roberts, a former Augusta National chairman, had once infamously said: "As long as I'm alive, golfers will be white and caddies will be black."

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The method almost outshined the madness. Woods, insanely long in his younger days, overpowered the course, prompting a series of design revisions over the years that have completely changed the feel of the fabled layout. He averaged 323 yards with his driver.

Everybody swooned. After playing with Woods on Saturday, the mighty Colin Montgomerie waved a white flag.

"There is no chance," he said. "We're all human beings here. There's no chance humanly possible."

When it was noted that Greg Norman had blown a six-shot lead a year earlier to lose to Nick Faldo -- the biggest collapse in majors history -- Monty unleashed one of the most memorable lines in Masters history.

"This is very different," Monty said. "Faldo's not lying second, for a start. And Greg Norman's not Tiger Woods."

Spot on, wasn't he?

Cowan, who now totes the bag for Jim Furyk, said nobody fully knew at the time what they were watching. Even though he had a front-row seat.

"I wasn't concerned with all that other crap, I was concerned with if it would buy shoes for my baby's feet," he deadpanned. "That's a hard thing to put into words -- it certainly changed the game from that point on, but I can't say that I was thinking it was going to happen.

"But I can say that I knew, even then, that he was good enough to be one of the greatest. He's done the rest."


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