In 1997, in his third Masters appearance and first as a professional, Woods pulled off one of the most stunning performances in the sport’s history. The 21-year-old, who had earned PGA rookie honors the year before, trounced the competition by a record 12 strokes while setting another mark with a score of 270.
Jordan Spieth matched the latter record in 2015, but no one has bettered it, and three other records Woods set in 1997 still stand: lowest final 54 holes (66-65-69—200), lowest middle 36 holes (66-65—131, matched by Woods in 2005) and most cumulative under par on the back nine (30-32-33-33—16-under). Another number stands out: 25, the margin between Woods and the second-longest hitter that week.
And to think he started that tournament with a 40 through his first nine holes — highest for an eventual winner — before turning on the jets and letting the rest of the golf world know that a new era had truly begun. “I think about it when I return to Augusta and remember what a cool experience it was,” Woods said recently for an oral history of that triumph (via Golf.com).
“The tournament, the fans, hugging Pop and seeing my mom when it was over and what it meant for the minority players that came before me. I’ll never forget that week.”
Unfortunately for Woods, his Masters memories from next week will largely consist of attending the Champions Dinner. “Augusta National has been a very important place to me and my family for over 20 years, and while I’m disappointed, it will be good to be back there Tuesday,” he said Friday.
Woods has been struggling with injuries for several years, particularly his back, which caused him to withdraw on Feb. 3 from the last event in which he has played this year, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. “I did about everything I could to play, but my back rehabilitation didn’t allow me the time to get tournament ready,” he said.
“I have no timetable for my return, but I will continue my diligent effort to recover, and want to get back out there as soon as possible.”
Woods has won The Masters four times in all as part of his 14 major victories, second only to Jack Nicklaus’s 18. Most of Woods’s majors came between 2000 and 2006, and at that time, it seemed inevitable that he would eventually, perhaps quickly, pass Nicklaus.
However, at this point, it’s at least as newsworthy when Woods is actually able to compete as when he announces a withdrawal. At 41, he’s still young enough to realistically contend again for titles at some point, but he’ll have to wait at least another year to try to recreate some Masters magic.