I grew up in Ayrshire and grew up on a junior football diet and paired golf. Both were in my blood from an early age and have remained with me to this day.
If I wasn’t in football, you could guarantee that I would be on the golf course and explore the gold mine of championship layouts on the west coast of Scotland.
West Kilbride, Kilmarnock Barassie, Bogside, Old Prestwick, Royal Troon, Western Gailes, Prestwick St Nicholas, Turnberry; I was blessed that they were all effectively on the doorstep.
Tiger Woods is celebrating after winning his fifth Masters title at Augusta National last year
Like many others, it was my father who taught me how to play the game and I can vividly remember the feeling of excitement when he told me that Tiger came to Troon in the summer of 1997.
A few months earlier, in April, I had spent my seventh birthday on TV when Tiger Woods wiped out the rest of the field in Augusta to announce herself as a global superstar.
Upon winning his first major Championship at that year’s Masters, he finished 18-under par, a full 12 shots ahead of his closest competitor.
Woods has shown guts and determination to recover from an injury and return to the highest level
At the time, it was the biggest victory margin ever recorded in a major, a record Tiger himself would break again in 2000 a few years later. But we will come back to that.
Let’s go back to Troon first. My father had bought tickets for us for one of the practice days, along with Saturday.
He had given me a glove, which was far too big to be signed by Tiger at that age, and our big plan was to catch him as soon as he left the practice area on Wednesday.
TIGER WOODEN FACTFILE
Real name: Eldrick Tont Woods.
Age: 44. Born: December 30, 1975.
Majors: 15 – (5) Masters: 1997, 2001, ’02, ’05, ’19; (4) PGA Championship: 1999, 2000, 06, 07; (3) US Open: 2000, 02, 08; (3) The Open: 2000, ’05, ’06.
Professional wins: 109.
First broke 70 on a 12 year regulation course.
Between June 2005 and October 2010, Woods was the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world – 281 weeks in total, breaking his previous record of 264 weeks set between August 1999 and September 2004.
Reached the number 1 rank for a total of 683 weeks, the current record. Greg Norman is the best after 331 weeks. Rory McIlroy leads the active players after 101 weeks.
Keeps record for consecutive cuts made at 142.
Co-holder of the record for PGA Tour wins, with 82, alongside Sam Snead. Phil Mickelson is the only other active player in the top ten, with 44 wins.
Ranked third in all time standings for European Tour wins with 41. Only Seve Ballesteros (50) and Bernhard Langer (42) have more.
One of five men who completed a Grand Slam career – Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are the others.
The youngest man to complete a Grand Slam career.
Masters titles in 1997 and 2019 make him the youngest – and second oldest – to win on Augusta.
The only player in history to win all four majors in a row – outside of the same year. The performance came to be known as the “Tiger Slam”.
Woods the winner
PGA Tour Rookie of the Year 1996.
PGA Player of the Year: (record) 11-1997, “99, 2000,” 01, “02,” 03, “05,” 06, “07,” 09, “13.
Winner PGA Tour Leading Money: (record) 10-1997, “99, 2000,” 01, “02,” 05, “06,” 07, “09,” 13.
Twelve-stroke margin in winning the Masters in 1997 is a record.
I remember my dad throwing me at the front of a bunch of kids like a bowling ball, and we all prayed that Tiger would take the time to stop and pay tribute.
Certainly he did. Keep in mind that these were the days when there was still some degree of accessibility around Woods. But that would soon disappear. By the time The Open returned to Troon in 2004, I was fourteen. I remember seeing Woods, now robotic and surrounded by a huge entourage, that completely blanked a group of young people.
He was in a relative drought. A period of rebuilding his swing, the party would turn into a famine as Woods won no majors in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
His 2002 US Open victory was his eighth major at the age of 26. They were knocked down like bowling, so it felt like an eternity that he had to wait until the Masters in ’05 to write down number 9.
That was the year he produced that chip recording from an apparently impossible area in the rough on the side of the 16th green in Augusta.
Woods’ first Masters title came in 1997 and has fascinated a sporting audience ever since
It just kept rolling. With every ball revolution there was an increasing sense of inevitability. Of course it would go in.
Dripping his way down the hill, perched over the edge of the hole, teasing us that it might be painfully short before the Nike swoosh lived its glorious moment, smiling into the camera lens as the ball tumbled into the cup.
Given the context and what was at stake, it was a genius display that is certainly one of the greatest photos of all time.
But let’s take it back to ’97. It would be an open championship in which Justin Leonard got the upper hand over Darren Clarke and Jesper Parnevik.
While it wasn’t the winner I’d hoped for, it was a week when my love affair with the game had sparked.
The sound of Tiger’s two iron ripping through the turf of the links, accompanied by the tiny cloud of brown dust, was unlike anything else I had ever heard, and I spent endless hours trying to replicate the ‘sting’.
I was still working with a chopped, half-set of clubs, and it wasn’t until Christmas 2000 that I finally got my first full set.
At that point, Tiger rewrote the laws of what was possible in the game. He recalibrated the definition of greatness and might as well have played a different sport than everyone else.
That feels appropriate Sports email ‘The Sporting Heroes series should fall on the 20th anniversary of that season, and the like will never be seen again.
Woods has suffered during his career, but has come back from great setbacks
Tiger won nine times on the PGA Tour in 2000, three of which were major championships, demonstrating unwavering excellence.
At the US Open on Pebble Beach, he quashed the game to win with a massive 15 shots, duly breaking his own Augusta scorecord three years earlier.
He then followed that up by winning The Open at St Andrews. The margin of victory? Oh, just the eight shots on that occasion.
Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Colin Montgomerie; all great players in themselves. But Tiger did to his opponents what a dog would do with an unsuspecting lamp post.
Winning the US Open at Pebble and the Claret Jug at the Home of Golf – two of the sport’s most iconic tracks – represented the Holy Grail.
Doing this with a combined total of 23 shots left made it even more impressive. Tiger reinvented golf.
The PGA Championship followed in Valhalla in August before Woods won the Masters again the following April to complete the Tiger Slam.
Winning four majors on the bounce placed him in a league of his own. It remains an achievement that is unlikely to be replicated. But the numbers tell only part of the story.
Perhaps the most true indication of Woods’ talent was in the sense of fear and worthlessness he could bring to his rivals.
In St. Andrews, in July 2000, Els joked, “Old Tom Morris? If you put Old Tom Morris with Tiger, Tiger would probably beat him by 80 shots now. ‘
Mark Calcavecchia’s praise was also exuberant, with the great American saying, “It was not long ago that I said there would never be a Jack Nicklaus again. But we’re looking at him (Woods). He is the chosen one. ”
In terms of who was better, it is a matter of personal opinion. When it comes to durability and sheer consistency, it’s hard to go against Nicklaus.
In addition to the record of 18 majors, Nicklaus also finished in second place. Those are ridiculous numbers.
Woods will not catch Nicklaus on either side. But as far as raw talent and skill go, Tiger was untouchable in its splendor.
Once Sir, Nicklaus has graciously admitted this on several occasions. When Tiger was in full swing, he was the most gifted and most dominant entity the game has ever seen.
Here was a young mixed-race boy, who was racially abused at school and took the opportunity to join so many of America’s elite country clubs. This boy who, as the son of a black man and a Thai woman, had revived a sport that was previously the exclusive domain of privileged white middle-class men.
At best, Woods was untouchable and no one could get close to him in full flight
Tiger’s story could have ended in 2008, when he won a US Open on a broken leg before his career got into a scandal.
He had accomplished more than enough in the game to run away if he wanted to. But his comeback to winning the Masters last year, a 15th major championship, gave us all a glimpse of a glorious past.
The drama, the red sweater, the green coat, the azaleas, the kaleidoscope of color that only Augusta can bring, The Eye of the Tiger.
After undergoing several operations on his knees and on his back, he overcame a physical condition that at one point felt like his whole body was razor-bladed and one that would have pushed lesser players into retirement.
They say the Masters don’t start until 9am on Sunday. Likewise, Woods is now in the back nine of his own career. Indeed, he has already passed Amen Corner.
He is now 44 and, depending on how things go with the coronavirus, he may be 45 by the time he fights another major. At such a late point in his career, it’s fantastic to believe that he will overshadow or even match the gold standard of 18 set by Golden Bear.
It seems absurd to see him somehow unfulfilled as a talent, but that’s exactly what he is. When his personal life derailed, there was an 11-year period between majors No. 14 and 15.
Those in his mid to late 30’s and early 40’s should have been the peak years of his career like any other golfer.
So we’ll never really know how good he could have been. The game was a bogey, as it were, as he approached bird putts and cocktail waitresses with equal pleasure.
If he could have behaved from the course, it is not unreasonable to suggest that he could have achieved 25 majors by now. That was the frequency and success rate he was headed for.
All we can know for sure is that Tiger was a natural force in his day that you will never see again.