Tuesday 24 January 2017

Tiger feat of '97 proves year zero for the new breed

Andy Farrell

Published 11/04/2011 | 09:33

1996 Masters champion Nick Faldo helps Tiger Woods on with the green jacket following Woods' victory in 1997.
1996 Masters champion Nick Faldo helps Tiger Woods on with the green jacket following Woods' victory in 1997.

Regardless of his performance here this week, Tiger Woods could not have had a bigger impact on the 75th Masters than he did by winning the tournament in 1997.

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Tiger's historic triumph by 12 strokes has been cited time and again as their main inspiration by the new generation of jacket-seekers, not least Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy could not have been helped more throughout his burgeoning career than by fellow Irishman Darren Clarke.

As child he was obsessed with Nick Faldo. But it is not any of Faldo's three Masters victories that stick in McIlroy's mind, not even in 1996 when Faldo overtook Greg Norman from six behind.

No, since 1997 it has been all about Tiger for McIlroy. "I was about seven and I can't tell you how much I was playing but I was really keen and playing a lot," McIlroy said. "I watched the previous year when Nick won but it is '97 that I remember watching with my dad."

McIlroy, who at 21 is only eight months older now than Tiger was in '97, can recount every stroke Woods hit as he won his first major championship as a professional. "That's when Tiger grabbed all our imaginations and won it by 12 and broke so many records. It was a huge moment for the game of golf."

Anniversaries are one of the big traditions at Augusta so there have been reminiscences about Gary Player becoming the first overseas player to win 50 years ago and, of course, the sentimental sixth green jacket for Jack Nicklaus 25 years ago.

They do not usually celebrate 14-year anniversaries but the relevance has been forced upon everyone, including Tiger himself. As Woods tries to resurrect his game, it is no longer good enough to restore what he once was.

He has to cope with those youngsters who were not intimidated, as Tiger's then rivals on the fairways were, but inspired by watching him on TV.

Memories

Jason Day, the Australian who played with McIlroy for the first three days, said when asked for his first Masters memories: "Watching Tiger in '97 and he just blew the field away. That's when I wanted to play well and one day play the Masters, play at Augusta National.

"When Tiger came along, he pretty much changed the game. Everyone turned into athletes. We are not fat slobs anymore. He has pretty much changed the game for the good. It just shows how good the coaching is, the science behind the game, and how confident some of these young guys are coming up now."

Day got a laugh when the 23-year-old complained that "it seems every year they are getting younger". By "they" he meant serious contenders within a game that used to see players mature in their 30s. Now McIlroy and others are a decade ahead of their time. Rickie Fowler, the American who played with McIlroy and Day on the first two days, is 22 and already a Ryder Cup player. His Masters memories?

"The highlights of '86 with Mr Nicklaus would be one but the other, probably the one I've watched the most, is Tiger winning in '97."

Hideki Matsuyama, the Asian Amateur champion, who was the only amateur to make the cut this week, is 19 and also nominated the 1997 Masters as his favourite. Matsuyama is the same age as compatriot Ryo Ishikawa, who has been a prolific winner in Japan for three years. Matteo Manassero (17) was the best amateur at the 2009 British Open.

The Italian has already won on the European Tour and is only just shy of a place in the world's top 50.

Charl Schwartzel is 26 so not only missed Player's first win but his third, in 1978, by six years. Player once corrected a TV interviewer who referred to "foreigners" playing in the Masters by saying: "I don't believe in the word 'foreigners' because I think we are all just golfers playing around the world."

For those in America, the world rankings unequivocally reveal the truth of golfers being from all around the world, not just the US. For the first time ever, no American was in the top seven of the leaderboard after three rounds of the Masters. Instead, five different continents were represented.

"There are a bunch of really good players coming through," Schwartzel said. "The world is big. America is big. But the world is bigger." (© Independent News Service)

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