AUGUSTA, GA. – When Tiger Woods dominated the golf world from 1997 through 2008, he ushered in a new era filled with imitators.
Young golfers played the sport because of Woods, and they adopted his habits: lifting weights, eating healthy, swinging hard and intimidating opponents.
Sunday at the Masters, Woods finally beat the generation he helped create, winning his 15th major by shooting a 70 and holding off a deep, talented field at Augusta National.
At 43, he held off a slew of younger golfers who once idolized him, and in doing so set up at least the theoretical possibility of catching Jack Nicklaus for most majors won in a career — 18.
“I think that I’ve driven a lot more youth to the game,” Woods said. “Guys … are training. They are getting bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic. They are recovering better.
“They are hitting the ball prodigious distances, and a little bit of that’s probably attributed to what I did.
“When I first turned pro, I was the only one in the gym, except Vijay [Singh]. So it was just basically he and I for years, and now everyone trains. Hey, even Phil [Mickelson] is working out. Things have come a long way.”
Woods once avoided friendships with his primary competitors. Now, in part because of his struggles and in part because of his involvement as vice captain of the Ryder Cup team, he has become widely popular on tour.
On his way to the clubhouse after winning on Sunday, a slew of players congratulated him.
“It’s pretty cool,” Rickie Fowler said. “Obviously it’s better for all of us having him play well and seeing if he can get this one done.”
Tony Finau was tied with Woods entering the final round and played in the last group with Woods and Francesco Molinari. Finau had his young son at the tournament.
What will Finau tell his son in the future? “I’ll tell him I was there when Tiger won his 15th major in the final group,” Finau said. “At that point, I’ll hopefully have a few under my own belt. You can’t say enough about Tiger and what he’s done for the game. He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with these next few years, I’m sure.”
Brooks Koepka finished one shot behind Woods in his effort to win for the fourth time in seven major starts. “I mean, the atmosphere around Tiger is mind-blowing and to be inside the ropes and just kind of see it as another player is pretty cool and unique,” Koepka said. “It’s impressive, it’s fun to watch and as a fan, just of golf and Tiger, it’s very special. Eighteen [majors] is, I think, a lot closer than people think.”
Molinari played in the final pairing with Woods at the British Open last year and beat him. “It’s great to see Tiger doing well,” he said. “But the way he was playing last year I think we all knew it was coming sooner or later. So maybe next time it will be better for me, but it was nice to be out with him. He played well, he hit the right shots at the right time and deserved to win.’’