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Tiger’s 25 Years As a Pro, Captured in SI

Photographers describe their favorite images of Woods.

Full Frame is Sports Illustrated's exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI's photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI's photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram and visit SI.com/photos. If you missed last week’s edition on turning Reggie Bush into a replica of an Oscar, you can find it here.

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It was 25 years ago last weekend when Tiger Woods made his debut as a full-fledged professional golfer. On Aug. 29, 1996, at the Greater Milwaukee Open, a pro career was launched that would “shatter all preconceived notions and demolish the most outrageous expectations,” John Hawkins writes for SI and the Morning Read in a recap of Woods’s 25 greatest career achievements.

That first tournament ended with Woods finishing tied for 60th, firing a hole in one and earning his first pro check for $2,544.

“The kid would escape from inside Tiger Woods every now and then, the way a five-year-old will come downstairs in pajamas and announce to the adults gathering in the living room that he can't sleep. A smile would come across his face in just a certain way. A phrase would escape from his lips. A nice little laugh,” Leigh Montville wrote in the Sept. 9, 1996, issue of SI, which covered Woods’s professional debut.

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Even before that tournament Woods could find himself in SI and, of course, numerous times afterward. Some of those instances stand out, especially to the photographers who captured images of his iconic moments.

Fred Vuich’s first assignment for SI was photographing the 2001 Masters Tournament, which everyone knew had the potential to be a historic occasion. Woods had won the previous three majors and with a win at that year’s Masters, he would hold all four of men’s golf’s major titles at once.

On Sunday during the final round, Vuich was told to position himself at the green on the 16th hole to capture the final groups as they passed through the par-3.

After the final group of Woods and Phil Mickelson came through, Vuich scrambled to reach the tee at No. 18. As other photographers made their ways to the green, where Woods would clinch his fourth major title in four tries, Vuich climbed up to a platform on the television and radio tower. Only one other person was with him, Vuich recalls.

Woods then came to the tee.

“It was like God flipped a light switch,” Vuich says.

Poised with his backswing at its peak, Woods is framed in the center of the image by both the throngs of patrons staring and the almost impossibly narrow corridor of fairway laid out in front of him. With the sun moving lower into the sky in the early evening, the lighting was “perfect,” Vuich says.

“It’s the circumstances. It’s the player. It’s the light. It’s all of those things. It was just a combination of things that came together right,” he says.

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When Vuich got word that his image would be on the cover of SI, he wouldn’t let himself believe it right away.

“I was amazed at first,” he says. “I thought it was an initiation thing—pulling a fast one on the new guy.”

But that image did, in fact, grace the cover of the April 16, 2001, issue, accompanied by just one word: Masterpiece.

Fast forward to that same hole during the final round of the 2019 Masters. Woods, who was then 43, found himself on the verge of winning his fifth Masters.

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After holing the putt that clinched his 15th major title, Woods turned, improbably, toward the camera of Kohjiro Kinno, who captured Woods throwing up his arms in triumph.

Kinno spoke to SI about how this photo came together for a video edition of Full Frame. He says that the emotion captured within it resonates with so many people, making it an iconic image and SI cover of Woods.

But Kinno says his personal favorite image of Woods, based on its composition, came during the 2008 U.S. Open.

Kinno spent the fourth round of the tournament taking photos from the MetLife Blimp, high above Torrey Pines. Woods needed to make a 12-footer to tie Rocco Mediate on the 72nd hole to force an 18-hole playoff that would take place the next day.

From his view above the action, Kinno was unable to request any angles. He had to go along with whatever the TV crew requested.

“There were a lot of things that had to come together,” Kinno says. With the wind and fog, for example, conditions had to be just right for him to get the bird’s-eye-view image of that moment.

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You can make out Woods, in his customary Sunday kit of a red shirt and black pants, celebrating his playoff-forcing made putt and his caddie Steve Williams running toward him, still holding the flag. The crowd surrounds the green on three sides and Kinno’s unique vantage point allowed him to showcase the sheer volume of people there.

Woods would go on to win the tournament the next day, the last major Woods had won before an 11-year drought ended with the 2019 Masters.

For more pictures of Woods, this gallery compiled by SI Staff contains not only the images described in this story but also dozens of others from his career so far.

Full Frame is Sports Illustrated's exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI's photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI's photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram and visit SI.com/photos. If you missed last week’s edition on turning Reggie Bush into a replica of an Oscar, you can find it here.

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