Nineteen months on, and the magic of that unforgettable afternoon at the Masters still has the power to bring a tear to the eye of the Tiger.
Asked to cast his mind back, Tiger Woods positively choked up as he recalled the day he won his fifth green jacket. ‘I still get chills just thinking about it,’ he said.
‘The victory in 1997 stands out because it was my first major and my dad was there at the back of the green. But last year was more emotional in a different way. After all the struggles, I’d never won a major coming from behind on the last day, my kids were there where my dad had once stood — there were a lot of ‘never happened befores’ that just made it so special.
‘It can still make me a little teary, as you can tell.’
Woods was in good spirits. This is the 25th anniversary of his first Masters and that provoked another lovely flashback.
‘My God, it’s amazing it’s that long,’ he said. ‘On the Wednesday I got to play with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in practice. I was just a punk student and we were playing skins for money that I didn’t have. On the 18th, Arnold won it all and then they looked at me and said I should join them for the par-three contest.
‘I said I was down to play much later and they said not to worry about that, they’d fix it. So I played with those two in my first par three. The whole day was one of the most incredible experiences that I’ve had.’
Age may wither his golf but it is making him far more forthcoming. Back in his prime it was all so perfunctory, the obligatory press conference another box to be ticked with faraway eyes and answers that revealed nothing.
Now, with nothing to prove and a gilded legacy, he smiles a lot and discloses still more.
No adventure surely compares to that Sunday in April last year, as no fewer than four of his fellow contenders found the water at the 12th, the fated par three known as Golden Bell, to trigger the miracle.
‘I went back there on Monday, and couldn’t help but smile,’ said Tiger. ‘What a hole that is. There is none like it.
‘I stood on the tee with a wedge in my hands, then a wind blew through and I had an eight iron, before I finally hit a nine iron — and that was just in practice. Add in the pressure, the final day of the Masters, and no wonder it all happens on that hole.’
Is there any chance of an encore? There was nothing in Woods’ tone, alas, to suggest as much. ‘When I look back to 1997 and to last year, they were pretty good bookends,’ he said, sounding like a man resigned to the passing of his time.
Out on the course, Jon Rahm, one of the men Tiger could be helping into a green jacket come Sunday, celebrated his 27th birthday by skimming a shot across the water at the par-three 16th into the hole for an ace. Imagine the reaction that would have got from the patrons.
Then there was Rory McIlroy, enjoying being under the radar going into the Masters for the first time in more than a decade.
Asked about Phil Mickelson saying he had ‘zero doubt’ that McIlroy would win the Masters one day, the Northern Irishman responded: ‘I’ve always felt I had the game to do well here but then so did Greg Norman and Ernie Els and they never won a green jacket, so nothing is a given. You have to go out and earn it and stay out of your own way.
‘What I do know is there are so many great players now that I will need to play my best golf to make it happen.’
Source: Daily Mail