Tiger Woods was climbing the incline to the 18th green at Augusta National at the end of his third round in the 1997 Masters. For the first time on that Saturday, he mentioned the leaderboard to caddie Fluff Cowan.
“We only have a nine-shot lead,’’ Tiger said. “[Constantino] Rocca made birdie.’’
That was the first time I had a chance to watch Woods in person. He was 21 and playing in his first major tournament as a pro. He opened with a 4-over 40 on the front nine Thursday, and was 22 under over the 63 holes that followed.
He finished with a total of 270 and a 12-stroke margin of victory — and those remain the Masters records.
Starting with that first full look at Woods in Augusta, I would’ve wagered any amount that I could manage that Tiger would’ve left Jack Nicklaus and his record of 18 pro majors in the dust by now. Certainly, I would’ve made that bet in the early evening of Aug. 14, 2009.
It was a windy Friday at Hazeltine National. Tiger put up three late birdies to get to 7 under and hold a four-stroke lead after 36 holes of the PGA Championship.
A passage in my column for Saturday’s Strib came with this assurance:
“What everyone knows is that when this PGA Championship ends Sunday … Woods, at 33, will have won 15 majors and stand three shy of Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record.’’
The unknown Y.E. Yang passed Woods on the 14th hole on Sunday and won by three strokes. “This was just a bad day at the wrong time,’’ Tiger said.
The fire hydrant, the family breakup, the treatment for sex addiction, all that followed, but today the scandal is merely a source for stale one-liners. It has nothing to do with his golf.
He was a great ball striker for much of 2013, and still stayed stuck at 14 majors. He’s only 38, but you see enough bad days with distance control or with the putter, and a magnificent Yogi-ism comes to mind for Tiger’s flagging pursuit of Jack:
“It’s getting late early.’’
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
Covering Tiger Woods at his best
2000 U.S. Open: Pebble Beach was impossible ... except for Tiger. He was 12 under par and won by 15 shots.
1997 Masters: Playing his first pro major at 21, Woods won by 12 strokes. Tiger Mania was unleashed.
2002 PGA: No one had finished with birdies on Hazeltine’s 16-17-18 all week. Woods did, only to lose by one stroke to Rich Beem.