It surely says something significant about Tiger Woods that in
a week in which he 1) was low amateur in his first Masters, 2)
made his first cut in seven tries in a PGA Tour-sanctioned
event, 3) drew history-hungry throngs that ran the gamut from
Lee Elder to Shoal Creek founder Hall Thompson, 4) got rave
reviews from every top pro who saw him play, 5) hit some talent
shots destined to become part of the tournament's lore and 6)
kept his conduct above reproach under a media microscope that
covered every move of the first black amateur ever to play in
the racially complicated atmosphere of the Masters, the
19-year-old Stanford freshman was still disappointed when it
became clear on Saturday that he could not win the tournament.
Half an hour after holing out for a third-round 77 that had put
him five over par and 15 strokes behind the leaders, Woods laid
his lanky 6 1", 150-pound frame on a worn but comfortable green
sofa in the Crow's Nest, a cozy room that is topped by the cu
pola of Augusta National's clubhouse. ``I'm so frustrated,''
said Woods. Birdies on the 2nd and 3rd holes had gotten him to
two under for the tournament and on the verge of going on the
leader board. But then a spate of bogeys, punctuated by a 6 on
the par-5 8th hole when he took 4 from the edge of the green,
turned the round into a struggle.
But rather than mope, Woods's face took on a knowing smile, the
kind a smart kid gets when he has run into something that is,
for the moment, bigger than he is. On Sunday he came back with a
solid 72, birdieing three of the last four holes for a total of
293, five over, to finish 41st.
``The way I drove it and putted, I know I could have been in the
hunt,'' said Woods, longingly watching the telecast of the
third-round leaders finishing their rounds. ``I guess everyone
feels that way, but I feel like this place is perfect for me. I
guess I need to get to know it better.''
He paused and gestured toward the black-and-white framed
photographs of Masters champions hanging on the walls.
``Someday,'' he said, the smile growing tighter, ``I'm going to
get my picture up there.''
It would be easy to dismiss such talk as a young man's delusions
of grandeur. After all, when confronted with the most essential
challenge that the Masters presents, hitting the precise landing
areas on Augusta National's rolling greens, Woods was unable to
consistently deliver, even with short iron and wedge approaches.
Critics could choose to consider the first official putt of
Woods's Masters career--a 30-footer on the 1st hole that
trundled past the cup, off the green and down an embankment
before stopping 50 feet from the hole--as an ugly harbinger.
They might also point out that both Ben Crenshaw in 1972 and
Phil Mickelson in 1991 did better in their Augusta debuts as
amateurs. They could make a case that the reigning U.S. Amateur
champion is becoming a victim of hype.
They would be wrong, however, because to dismiss Woods's
performance as anything but extraordinary would be to miss the
point. For if Woods proved one thing last week, it is that
despite whatever sociological baggage anyone cares to impose, he
and the Masters are a perfect fit. Although Tiger's excellent
adventure was satisfying on many levels, it was most important
as a reconnaissance mission to lay the groundwork for many
future trips to--and almost surely some victories in--Augusta.
The fact is, based on the manner in which he played if not
necessarily his score, Woods brought a unique energy to the 59th
Masters. From his first practice round on Monday to his early
finish on Sunday, the only male player in history to win three
U.S. Junior Amateur championships showed a talent for the game
every bit as electrifying as that of the young Nicklaus and the
young Ballesteros, both of whom also came to their first Masters
at the age of 19.
With the impassive aplomb with which he bombed his opening tee
shot on all four days within wedge distance of the 1st green,
Woods demonstrated that he feels frighteningly comfortable at
Augusta. For emphasis Woods made another statement after
Saturday's third round while on the practice range next to
eventual runner-up Davis Love III. When Love, the longest hitter
on the Tour last year, pulled out his driver, the spectators in
the bleachers cheered and loudly urged him to try to carry the
50-foot-high netting, some 260 yards away, that is designed to
keep balls from going onto Washington Road, a main thoroughfare
that abuts the range. After Love failed on two attempts, Woods
shyly asked, ``Should I try?'' When Love nodded, Woods
unsheathed his Cobra oversized driver to the delight of the
spectators. Woods then smoothly rocked into his compact
backswing and ripped a perfectly straight cannon shot that
easily cleared the netting, causing the stands to erupt and
drawing a smile from every player on the range.
If such feats have little to do with shooting low scores,
Woods's practice-round partners at the Masters--a formidable
collection including Nick Faldo, Raymond Floyd, Greg Norman,
Fred Couples, Nick Price and Gary Player--each said that the
young man possesses as near to a complete package as they have
ever seen in a player his age. All of the veterans are acutely
aware of the precariousness of early success in their sport, yet
all said that Woods possesses something extra, both physically
and in his mental approach to the game.
``Certain players, you look at them once, and you see
something,'' said Player, who was paired with Woods in the Par-3
tournament. ``The first time I saw Jack Nicklaus or Arnold
Palmer or Ben Hogan or Sam Snead or Lee Trevino, I saw something
special. As soon as I saw Tiger Woods swing today, I thought,
Man, this young guy has got it. `It' is something indescribable.
It's the way he puts his hands on the club, the way he stands
over the ball. It's agility, it's speed. `It' is what a great
Norman, whose swing instructor, Butch Harmon, is also Woods's,
was more succinct. Asked on Wednesday what kind of finish he
thought would constitute a good tournament for Tiger, Norman
said, ``Probably to win, for him. He is good enough.''
Had Woods been able to break a pattern of hitting long into the
greens with so many of the short irons and wedges that his
immense drives left him, he would have convinced everyone else
that he is good enough. Other than sending his approaches to
places from which it was very difficult to make birdies, Woods
played almost flawless golf, driving with a power and accuracy
reminiscent of John Daly at the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked
Stick, and demonstrating finesse and control around the greens.
Woods was astounding in his sheer length. Statistically he was
the longest driver in the field, with an average of 311.1 yards,
with Love second, averaging 306.5 yards. Although Woods appears
too skinny to generate a lot of power, students of the swing
were awestruck by the speed of his motion through the ball. ``He
has the fastest rotation through the ball of any player,'' said
Rick Smith, who instructs both Nicklaus and Lee Janzen. ``It's
an incredible gift.''
With Augusta's wide, fast fairways beckoning, Woods held back
little in his compact but explosive action, and in the practice
rounds he consistently outdrove all his partners, including
Couples and Norman, sometimes by 25 yards or more.
``I don't know if he's unfair or unreal,'' said Woods's caddie,
Tommy (Burnt Biscuits) Bennett, a looper in 20 previous Masters
who was hired after 63-year-old Earl Woods decided against
caddying for his son. ``Tiger swings so pure, and that ball
doesn't want to come down. Sometimes I felt like there just
wasn't enough golf course out there for him.''
Once the tournament proper began, Woods didn't let up. At the
500- yard, par-5 15th hole, he hit four straight drives more
than 330 yards and picked an eight- or nine-iron into the green
for his second shot. Only once did Woods hit more than a
seven-iron to any par-4.
Several of the relatively few long iron shots that he hit were
as immense as his drives. In the first round, on the 555-yard
par-5 2nd hole, Woods hit a three-iron from 235 yards onto the
green from a lie underneath trees that forced him to punch the
ball. (``That's why his name is Woods, because he can hit out of
any woods,'' said his mother, Kultida, who along with her
husband walked all 72 holes with their son.) On Friday he hit
two classic shots: another three-iron to 20 feet from 235 yards,
uphill, on the 360-yard 3rd hole after his drive hit a tree; and
a monstrous two-iron from 250 yards on the par-5 13th that he
had to cut around a huge pine and carry over the creek in front
of the green.
Unfortunately, Woods was releasing his body with the same force
on shots of between 110 and 165 yards, causing him to hit over
several greens. ``We knew distance control would be the biggest
challenge for Tiger, and this course taught him what he has to
work on,'' said Harmon. ``Otherwise, I thought he performed and
managed himself beautifully.''
For a young man immersed in golf, Woods couldn't have had a
better week. He arrived at the club Sunday at dusk and quickly
took his putter and a couple of balls out to the practice green
to check out the lightning pace he had seen so often on
television. After his customary cheeseburger, followed by 12
hours of sleep, Woods played a practice round with Faldo. In the
afternoon he and amateur Trip Kuehne, his roommate in the Crow's
Nest, went out for another 18. It was Kuehne whom Woods defeated
in the U.S. Amateur final last August, coming from six down to
win one up, and the two friends played an intense match for $5
that Woods finally won with a par on the 18th hole.
``Everything here is so perfect,'' said Woods during another
twilight session on the putting green. ``I get to live here,
they serve us great food, and all I have to do is walk out the
door to use the best practice facility and the best course in
the world. How can you not play well?''
It was a theme that would be repeated. On Tuesday, during his
practice round with Floyd, Norman and Couples, Woods was waiting
to hit his ball from near the gallery ropes on the right of the
2nd fairway when he said, ``What a beautiful day. You know, I
could be in a classroom.'' Answered a marshal, ``Yeah, but you
would never be getting an education like this.'' Woods would say
later that this relaxed practice round, and particularly the
friendly way in which Couples treated him, was the main reason
he felt no nervousness when the tournament started.
So calm was Woods that he had no problem acknowledging and,
after his rounds, interacting with a public that clearly found
him appealing. Woods's presence attracted more black spectators
than ever to the Masters, and he made an effort to fulfill what
he seemed to sense was a special responsibility. All week long
he signed autographs for Augusta National's employees, a large
proportion of whom are black. At 6 p.m. on Friday, after making
the cut at even-par 144, Woods and his father drove to a nearby
public course, Forest Hills, where Tiger put on a free clinic
for caddies and junior golfers. It was his way of honoring
Augusta National's black caddies, who, until 1982, were used
exclusively in the Masters.
``It's a black thing,'' said Earl Woods. ``We are acknowledging
that we know who came before Tiger and that they suffered
humiliation and that we realize the debt. It's a way of saying
thank you and a promise to carry the baton.'' Jerry Beard, a
former Masters caddie who carried winner Fuzzy Zoeller's bag in
1979, said, ``Just knowing Tiger came to hit balls for them is
enough to get some of these kids playing golf. As for the
caddies, we deeply appreciated it. We have been the forgotten
men of the Masters, but maybe Tiger will help us be
As Woods, surrounded by aging men and young children, hit crisp
five-irons off turf nearly devoid of grass, his father announced
over a microphone to the crowd, ``This young man this week has
passed from adolescence to manhood. I'm very proud of him.''
``Thanks, Pop,'' said his son, who will surely be the man to
contend with the next time he returns to the Masters.