Tiger re­flects on ’ 97 Mas­ters win

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - Steve DiMeglio @ Steve_ DiMeglio USA TO­DAY Sports

Dur­ing the first week of April in 1997, TigerWoods beat Arnold Palmer in a tense 18- hole match, shot 59 the next day play­ing with Mark O’Meara, made a hole- in- one and watched the launch of the space shut­tle Columbia.

“I thought my prep was per­fect,” Woods said Mon­day in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with USA TO­DAY Sports dur­ing a book tour to pro­mote the re­lease of

The 1997 Mas­ters: My Story ( Grand Cen­tral Publishing, avail­able at Tiger­woods­mas­ters. com). “I had won a few tour­na­ments lead­ing into the event. Now all of a sud­den here I am prep­ping for the Mas­ters and I’m al­ready hot. You couldn’t have asked for a bet­ter start. It was a dream sce­nario.”

The fol­low­ing week wasn’t too shabby, ei­ther — Woods won the Mas­ters by 12 shots in his first ma­jor as a pro­fes­sional, shoot­ing 70- 66- 65- 69 and set­ting 20 tour­na­ment records in the first of his four tri­umphs at Au­gusta Na­tional.

“There are a few tour­na­ments through­outmy ca­reer where I felt, ‘ Just don’t screw it up,’ ” Woods said. “That was one of them.”

On the 20th an­niver­sary of that wa­ter­shed mo­ment in golf, Woods pulls the head cover off his oth­er­wise shel­tered life and cap­tures his his­toric march to the green jacket in a fast- paced 244 pages. With Cana­dian Golf Hall of Fame writer Lorne Ruben­stein, Woods, 41, re­flects on his jour­ney inside and out­side the ropes that cul­mi­nated with a hug from his dad be­hind the 18th green and re­ceiv­ing the green jacket from Nick Faldo in But­ler Cabin.

Woods, who says he hopes to play in next month’s Mas­ters, ex­plains how he used a per­sim­mon driver to hone his swing the week be­fore the Mas­ters and made use of Golf Chan­nel’s video li­brary to study Au­gusta Na­tional’s treach­er­ous greens. He tees up his thoughts about the changes made to the course to com­bat tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances in the game.

He also ex­plains why he wears red on Sun­days, what the Par 3 Con­test meant to him and why after he won the Mas­ters and then the GTE By­ron Nel­son a month later in his next start he de­cided to change his swing. And how dur­ing that epic week he needed to have his meats and went to Arby’s every night.

“I wanted to take the read­ers back into what I saw and what I felt from shot to shot. The ex­pe­ri­ences I felt that were im­por­tant, that helped me to that vic­tory, not just through­out the week but also through­out my en­tire life,” Woods said.

“I was only 21 at the time, but I had been through a lot, but I also didn’t know a lot. In hind­sight, writ­ing it 20 years later, it was quite in­ter­est­ing to re­mem­ber a lot of the stuff that went on that par­tic­u­lar week, and the buildup to it. I still get giddy talk­ing about it, be­cause it was so im­por­tant tomy life.”

My strat­egy in 1997 was based on three fac­tors: my length, that the course had no rough, and that it had vir­tu­ally no trees that would come into play even if Imissed fair­ways. Au­gusta Na­tional was ef­fec­tively wide open forme.

He quickly shut the door on ev­ery­one in the field with eye- open­ing fire­power.

In the first round, Woods was paired with de­fend­ing cham­pion Faldo. After open­ing with a 40 on the front nine, Woods shot 30 on the back nine, in­clud­ing an ea­gle. He fin­ished three shots off the lead with a 70; Faldo shot 75.

Woods carded the low­est scores the next two days. Paired with Costantino Rocca on Sun­day and hold­ing a ni­neshot lead, Woods sailed through Amen Cor­ner and birdied 11, 13 and 14 to fin­ish with a 69 and a stun­ning 18- un­der par.

At 21, Woods be­came the youngest to win the Mas­ters and broke sev­eral tour­na­ment records along the way.

While the book of­fers re­mark­able in­sight into each of his rounds, equally fas­ci­nat­ing are nu­mer­ous ac­counts of im­por­tant mo­ments in his life that shaped him as a young­ster and then a man, most com­ing from the in­flu­en­tial guid­ance of his mother, Kul­tida, and fa­ther, Earl, and now fu­eled by his two chil­dren, Sam and Char­lie.

While he would go on to de­vour the course at Au­gusta Na­tional, it bit him at the start.

The book opens with Woods start­ing the Mas­ters “with a 40 on the front nine, a two- hour clunker that tem­pered the mas­sive hype lead­ing to the first tee.”

“I was pretty ticked that I shot 40, but I was try­ing to get ( an­grier) as I was walk­ing to 10,” Woods said. “What hap­pened to my swing? I putted well to shoot 40. Then I hit the tee shot off of 10, and I said, ‘ That’s it. That’s my swing from last week.’ ”

I knew one thing above all as I walked to the tenth tee: My start wasn’t go­ing to fin­ish me. Most peo­ple would say that no­body re­cov­ers from a first- nine 40 at the Mas­ters. I’d learn later that the me­dia were al­ready writ­ing me off, even as I was mak­ing my way to the back nine. ...

I was sur­rounded by a half- dozen or so Pinker­ton se­cu­rity guards as I walked off the ninth green and over to the tenth tee. I could now feel ev­ery­body’s eyes on me. I was dimly aware that some were say­ing the tour­na­ment was al­ready over for me. My dad’s mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence helped me here.

The last of Woods’ 270 strokes that week came from 4 feet with the scor­ing record jointly held by Jack Nick­laus and Ray­mond Floyd on the line. Nine years ear­lier Woods was in­spired as he watched Nick­laus win the 1986 Mas­ters at 46. Now he had a chance to break the Golden Bear’s record.

“I had this dou­ble- break­ing putt, left to right, hit it too hard throughmy line,” Woods said. “On that next putt, I was think­ing, ‘ I haven’t had a three- putt all week, now I have the record in hand and I’mabout to lose it on a three- putt. Here we go. Come on. Fo­cus on what you need to do.’

“So I fo­cused, and I hit the putt, cen­ter cut.”

Just like his en­tire week, a per­fect putt. It was a fit­ting end­ing. More than 43 mil­lion watched his vic­tory on TV, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, who called to con­grat­u­lateWoods.

I lived in ’ 97 for that mo­ment when I had to per­form. Maybe I don’t live as much for that now, but I still crave com­pet­ing. But I also re­al­ize that, phys­i­cally, I can’t nec­es­sar­ily do what I want to do. And I know I’ll miss it when I’m done play­ing tour­na­ment golf. Still, I love be­ing on my own on the range and go­ing out in the evening to play a few holes — just me, the golf ball, and the course. Com­pete, though, re­mains my fa­vorite word, and prob­a­bly al­ways will. My par­ents told me it was okay for me to fail, as long as I gave it ev­ery­thing I had. I have given ev­ery­thing I have.

FILE PHOTO BY PORTER BINKS, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

TigerWoods shot 69 in the fi­nal round of the 1997 Mas­ters to win by 12 shots and set 20 tour­na­ment records.

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