Although it was August 1996 when Tiger Woods took to the podium of the Greater Milwaukee Open prior to his PGA Tour debut as a professional and proclaimed, “Hello world,” it was eight months later at the 1997 Masters when the world really took notice.
For those who weren’t following golf closely at the time, in the fall of 1996 Woods was coming off three-straight U.S. Junior Championships, followed by three-straight U.S. Amateur Championships from 1991 to 1996, an unprecedented run.
He turned professional not long after that final U.S. Amateur victory, and went on to win twice on the PGA Tour in late 1996, earning Tour status for the following year.
Woods arrived at the 1997 Masters having already won once that year and he would leave the first major of the year not only with a green jacket (his first of four) but having re-written the major championship history books as well.
With this year marking the 20th anniversary of the tournament, a major championship that in many ways changed golf forever, here are 20 awesome facts from the 1997 Masters.
Woods shot 40 on the front nine Thursday
Although much has been made about Woods’ final score (more on that later) he opened the tournament with four bogeys in his first nine holes to go out in a 4-over-par 40. Woods bogeyed Nos. 1, 4, 8 (a short par-5 he would birdie the next three days) and 9. He turned things around quickly, though.
He front-nine 40 and back-nine 30 on Thursday was the biggest turnaround ever at the Masters
After going out in +4, Woods birdied holes 10, 12, 13, and 17. He added an eagle on 15 to shoot six-under-par back nine of 30. His 40/30 score on Thursday represented the biggest turnaround in nine holes in Masters history.
He came into the week having shot 59 at his home club
Woods and Mark O’Meara – Woods’ good friend who would go on to win the Masters himself the following year – played a casual round together at Isleworth Country Club the Friday before the ’97 event in which Tiger shot a course-record 13-under-par 59.
As legend has it, the two played again the next day. This time, with Woods already 5-under after 10 holes, he proceeded to make a hole-in-one on 11. As the story goes, O’Meara gave Woods $100 on the spot and drove his cart home in disbelief without saying another word to Woods.
He won by a record 12 shots
When the dust settled Sunday, Woods had captured his first green jacket by a whopping 12 shots. Runner-up Tom Kite’s 6-under-par tournament total would have won 34 of the previous 60 Masters.
Said Kite: “I beat all the mortals.”
He shot 22-under for his last 63 holes
After Woods’ opening nine struggles, he would go on to shoot -22 after that, firing 66-65-69 over his final three rounds. He would make just three total bogeys in Rounds 2 through 4, at one point going 38-straight holes without a bogey.
The victory margin was the largest ever in major championship golf history
Woods’ 12-shot margin of victory was the most ever, until he broke his own record by winning the 2000 U.S. Open by 15(!) shots.
On Augusta’s tricky greens, he didn’t three-putt all week
This was Woods’ first time playing Augusta National as a professional, and the fact that he didn’t have a single three-putt over the 72 holes remains one of the most mind-boggling stats from the week. Early in the week, he received a tip from his father Earl: “Your hands are too low. Lift them up,” and he practised on Stanford’s basketball court to get ready. He also watched videos of old Masters tournaments from the Golf Channel’s library, and tried to memorize how the putts broke. Clearly, the approach worked.
He averaged 323 yards off the tee for the week… in 1997!
Some golfers at the 1997 Masters were still using persimmon drivers, but Woods had already started to use technology to his advantage. His average of 323 yards off the tee during the week was 23 yards more than the next-longest driver (only Scott Hoch also averaged more than 300 yards a pop that week, and just barely, at 300.3). The longest hitter for the season in 1997 was John Daly, who was the lone golfer to average more than 300 yards per drive. (Woods was second in ’97, averaging 294.8 yards).
He captured the Masters scoring record
Woods’ 18-under-par 270 was the lowest score in the history of the tournament at the time. Jack Nicklaus shot -17 when he won in 1965, and Ray Floyd tied that number when he won 11 years later. Jordan Spieth matched Woods’ 18-under total in 2015, nearly two decades later.
He captured the major scoring record
No one in the history of major championship golf had gone as low as Woods did that week at Augusta National. It was a feat of scoring prowess unseen in the game’s storied history.
He was only a professional for 7.5 months and had won four times
As mentioned, Woods was less than eight months removed from being an amateur, and yet, his Masters victory gave him four PGA Tour wins – two in 1996, and two in 1997. He would go on to win the next tournament he entered and once more in the summer, giving him four on the season.
He was the youngest winner in the 61-year history of the tournament
Woods’ victory signalled a changing of the guard in professional golf. He was 20 months younger than the next youngest Masters champion Seve Ballesteros, who won in 1980. Since the U.S. Amateur happens in August, he was also still the reigning U.S. Amateur champion when he won the Masters – the first (and only) time that’s ever happened.
He was the first minority golfer to win a major championship
Woods calls himself ‘Cablinasian’, a mix of his parents’ ethnicities – Caucasian, Black, Indian (Native American), and Asian, and given Augusta National’s treatment of minorities in the past and Woods’ own admission of experiencing racism growing up, the win was an important feat (beyond just golf).
His father, Earl, was basically bed-ridden for the whole week until Sunday afternoon
Earl Woods had flat-lined a few months earlier in the hospital, and during Masters week was still recovering from triple-bypass surgery. However, he got up for Sunday’s finale and the big embrace between father and son on the 72nd hole remains one of golf’s enduring images.
His victory was watched by more people than any other golf tournament in history
In 1997 there was no PVR and certainly no social media. According to an Associated Press report the week after the Masters, 44 million people, a viewing record, watched the final round of the tournament. Sunday’s round also had a 14.1 Nielsen rating, shattering the record for major championships.
At the time, he won the most money for winning the Masters ever
In a recent interview with David Feherty, Phil Mickelson admitted when he started playing on the PGA Tour it would have been “cool” to play for a $1-million first-place cheque. Thanks to Woods, and the sponsors and eyeballs he brought to the sport, now almost every tournament on the PGA Tour has a $1 million-plus prize to the winner. For his troubles in 1997, Woods won $486,000 – the most ever awarded to a Masters champion.
He ate at Arbys every single night that week
Unveiled in Woods’ recent book on the 1997 Masters, he and his friends ate at Arbys, the fast-food chain in the U.S. – every night after his round was done. Although he ate either chicken or steak before the tournament for dinner, his superstitious friends made a point of stopping at Arbys after every round because he was playing well.
He played the Quad City DJs (loudly) driving down Magnolia Lane after he won
Another interesting nugget from Woods’ book: after his victory, and late on Sunday, he and his friends rolled down the window of his Cadillac courtesy car and blasted “C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train)” out of the stereo. Although unconfirmed, it’s likely this is the first time the Quad City DJs were played from a car stereo so loudly down Magnolia Lane.
He fell asleep fully clothed, clutching the Green Jacket like a blanket
After Woods’ champions dinner Sunday night, his drive down Magnolia Lane with his friends (and the stop at Arbys) the party continued into the wee hours of Monday morning where Woods fielded calls from U.S. President Bill Clinton and was visited by Nike President and CEO Phil Knight. The party concluded when no one could find the Masters champion. He had retreated to a bedroom, holding the Green Jacket over most of his upper body, and was fast asleep.
He would go on to win three more green jackets
While Woods’ 1997 victory will likely go down in history as his most significant, he has since won three more Masters – in 2001, 2002 and 2005. His four green jackets tie him with Arnold Palmer for second-most all time, behind Jack Nicklaus, who won six.