It was a day-long coronation, a stroll amid the dogwoods and azaleas toward history. Tiger Woods, a man of color, took his place among the game's greats at a tournament that did not invite its first black player until the year he was born.
That player, Lee Elder, was in attendance at Augusta National 20 years ago when Woods made the world pay attention to golf. African-American workers at the club snuck a peak at Woods on the first tee. They stood on the balcony of the clubhouse cheering him as he putted out on the 18th green, while 44 million television viewers witnessed his record-setting performance during the final round.
Four men had front-row seats to Woods' 12-shot victory at that 1997 Masters. Nick Faldo, Paul Azinger, Colin Montgomerie and Costantino Rocca were Woods' playing partners during the four rounds of the tournament. At the time, they weren't contemplating the social ramifications of his play, but simply marveling at what was on display before them.
Woods set the tournament scoring mark of 270, 18 under par, and at 21 became the youngest player to win the title.
In 1997, the Masters field went off in twosomes each day and re-paired by score following each round. Here is a look back at the tournament through the eyes of those who played with Woods each day.
Round 1: Thursday, April 10, 1997
The set-up: Faldo was the defending Masters champion coming off a victory at Riviera, which would turn out to be his last PGA Tour win. As per tradition, he was paired with the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, Woods -- who had turned professional immediately after his last amateur triumph and had already won three times on the PGA Tour. Despite having never played in a major championship as a pro, Woods was installed as an 8-1 co-favorite with Faldo and Greg Norman -- the tough-luck loser to Faldo a year prior when he squandered a 6-shot, final-round lead.
The round: Woods hit a wayward drive on the first hole, found a bunker and couldn't get up and down to start the tournament with a bogey. He added three more bogeys on the front side, including the par-5 eighth and again at the ninth, to take 40 strokes and stand at 4 over through nine holes. But Woods gathered himself -- he said he tried to return to the feelings he had a week earlier when shooting 59 at his home course in Florida -- and blistered the back with four birdies and an eagle. His 6-under-par 30 gave him a round of 70, just 3 strokes back of first-round leader John Huston (who holed a fairway shot for an eagle at the 18th). Faldo shot 75.
Notable: Woods got under par for the first time at the 15th hole, where he hit a pitching wedge to 6 feet on the par-5 and made the eagle putt to stand at 1 under.
"It was so total Tiger, it was annoying." Nick Faldo
Faldo's take: "Going in, it was, 'What do you think of Tiger?' Didn't ask you anything [about yourself]. It was so total Tiger. It was unbelievable. It was so total Tiger it was annoying. He came in with such major attention. And he used it in his favor. No player before walked to the first tee with eight policemen around him. Suddenly, Tiger decided he needed security. He had a whole different aura. An aura around him where everybody watched him and listened. And everybody wanted a piece of it. Yes, it was amazing.
"He went out in 40 and back in 30 and then we didn't see him for the next 14 years. He left us in the dust. It was a special day. It was the way he went out in 40 and then to win by 12. That's something pretty unique. [It's like] you miss the first corner and then don't see him for dust. That's really what that week was.''
Faldo today: Faldo, now 59, was ranked No. 1 in the world for 97 weeks, having won six major championships, including the Masters three times. The Englishman is now a mainstay on American television as an analyst for both CBS and Golf Channel. (He missed the cut at the 1997 Masters following a second-round 81.)
Round 2: Friday, April 11, 1997
The set-up: Woods' back-nine charge on Thursday turned his status from first-round disappointment into contender. He trailed the leader, Huston, by just 3 shots and was in the second-to-last pairing with Azinger, who had won his only major title in 1993. Azinger, 37 at the time, had 11 PGA Tour titles but none since returning from non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 1994. And he had never fared particularly well at the Masters (his best finish, fifth, came in 1998). Still, he was a seasoned pro who had opened the Masters with 69.
The round: Woods got off to a better start this time, parring the first hole and then birdieing the second. His only bogey of the day came at the par-4 third and from there he cruised to a 6-under-par 66 that included an eagle-birdie-birdie run at the 13th through 15th holes that saw Woods surge into the lead by 3 strokes over Colin Montgomerie. Woods' 66 put him at 136, 8 under par. Azinger shot 73 and dropped to a tie for seventh, 6 shots back.
Notable: Woods led the tournament for the first time when he eagled the par-5 13th, hitting an 8-iron to 20 feet and rolling in the putt to get to 6 under.
"To succeed (on tour), you have to drive the ball well. You have to make putts and you have to be the best wedge player. That week (Tiger) was all three." Paul Azinger
Azinger's take: "To me, I figured he'd be nervous playing with me. Why should I be nervous playing with him? He was 21. I didn't even think about it. I double the first hole from the middle of the fairway, then played 1 under the rest of the day. I'm hitting 3-wood, 8-iron into No. 13. I'm hitting driver, 8-iron to 15. Those were big holes that changed the way it went. He hit 3-wood, pitching wedge to 13. ... The first tee shot I'm thinking, 'Holy crap.' On No. 2, right down the middle, he's got 6-iron, 7-iron into the [par-5] green. And he didn't miss a putt inside 10 feet. If you're going to drive it great and not miss a putt inside 10 feet, who is going to beat you?
"To succeed [on tour], you have to drive the ball well. You have to make putts and you have to be the best wedge player. That week he was all three. If you're two out of the three, you can make cuts and make a living. If you have one of the three, you're going to starve. But he had all three. Even if he missed a fairway, he hit it a mile.
"He was unaffected by the magnitude of what he was trying to accomplish. That's what struck me. He wants to play well way more than he is afraid of failing. There were little things in my head that I envied in him because he wasn't afraid of screwing up. Not everybody thinks that way. That's an asset. ... When people asked me about Tiger later in his career, I always said he wants it more than everybody else. That doesn't mean we don't want it. ... He's less afraid of failure than anybody I've ever seen. As a result he failed less often.''
Azinger today: Azinger, now 57, went on to win his 12th and final PGA Tour event at the 2000 Sony Open. He finished his career with 10 top-10s in major championships, including a seventh later in 2000 at The Open. Azinger played just four times on the Champions Tour and got into television with analyst roles at ABC, ESPN and now Fox. He will also do the Masters telecast for the BBC. (Azinger ended the 1997 Masters in a tie for 28th.)
Round 3: Saturday, April 12, 1997
The set-up: Augusta National was buzzing with Woods in the lead and adding more intrigue was Montgomerie shooting a second-round 67 to get in the last group, 3 strokes back. He was in the midst of winning the European Tour's Order of Merit seven straight years (through 1999) and to that point had five top-10s in majors, including playoff losses at the 1994 U.S. Open and the 1995 PGA Championship. And he provided a bit of fuel for Woods when he said: "There's more to it than hitting the ball a long way, and the pressure's mounting more and more. I've got more experience, a lot more experience, in major championships than he has. And hopefully I can prove that.''
The round: Woods proved Montgomerie's experience didn't matter. He played a near-flawless third round with seven birdies and no bogeys for a 7-under-par 65 while Montgomerie made three front-nine bogeys on his way to a 74. The Scotsman dropped 12 shots back into a tie for sixth while Woods led the tournament by nine.
Notable: During his 65, Woods missed just a single fairway and just one green -- at the par-4 third, where he saved par by making a 10-footer.
"I outdrove him on the first. I hit the back of the bunker and it shot forward and I got him by a yard. I could have walked in. I don't think I saw him again all day." Colin Montgomerie
Montgomerie's take: "I'm probably the reason he did what he did. I played with Tiger on that famous day on the Saturday. I witnessed something very special that day. I thought I would beat him. I was wrong. And everyone else was wrong as well. But I admitted it. I'd just witnessed something very special. I thought I shot a very solid 74 until I lost to him by 9 shots. I witnessed something that nobody else had seen. I was asked: Will he win? He'll win by more than 9. Of course he did. He won by 12. Yes, 20 years ago.
"I'll never forget it. I outdrove him on the first. I hit the back of the bunker and it shot forward and I got him by a yard. I could have walked in. I don't think I saw him again all day. I think he was 60, 70 yards ahead of me all day. It was phenomenal to watch him. He knew it was going in and his caddie knew it was going in and I knew it was going in and everyone knew it was going in. The belief that he had that a ball was going to go in. Now Augusta is the most difficult to commit to and believe that the ball is going to go in the hole. Tiger had that belief at 21 years old. Incredible.
"I'll never forget what I saw close at hand. I was the closest to it all day. That was very special playing with someone we'd never seen at that level. He shot 65 and it was the easiest 65 I ever saw. Just something different about it. Never witnessed anything like that. I didn't really know what he was capable of. I felt I had experience over him. We could do something. I was sorely misjudged. And we all were. Nobody could have said what was going to happen and what was the writing on the wall over the next 20 years. Very lucky to have lived in the era of Tiger Woods.''
Montgomerie today: Montgomerie, now 53, is regarded among the best players to have never won a major championship. He finished second to Woods at The Open in 2005 and posted his 10th top-10 in a major the following year at the U.S. Open, where a double-bogey on the final hole cost him the title.
Montgomerie went on to win a total of 31 European Tour titles, eight Order of Merits and captained the 2010 European Ryder Cup team to victory. He is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and now plays frequently on the Champions Tour, where he has won three majors. He also does TV commentary and will be at the Masters for both SkySports and Golf Channel. (Monty shot a final-round 81 at the 1997 Masters and tied for 30th.)
Round 4: Sunday, April 13, 1997
The set-up: If there was any doubt about the outcome heading into the final round of the Masters with Woods leading Rocca by 9 strokes, Montgomerie did his best to dispel it the night prior. "We're all human beings here,'' he said. "But there is no chance humanly possible that Tiger Woods is going to lose this tournament.''
Reminded that Norman had let a 6-shot advantage slip a year earlier, Montgomerie said: "This is different; this is very different. Faldo's not lying second, for starts. And Greg Norman's not Tiger Woods.'' Rocca, from Italy, had famously lost the 1995 Open to John Daly at St. Andrews after miraculously holing a long birdie putt from off the green to force a playoff. Although Rocca, then 40, was a veteran of European Tour golf, he had competed in just nine majors and this was just his third Masters.
The round: Woods put to rest any doubts about squandering the lead by the turn after he made two birdies and two bogeys over the front nine. Rocca never got closer than 8 strokes. At that point, all that was left was the 72-hole scoring record, which Woods set by shooting 3 under on the back -- and converting a tricky par putt at the 18th -- to finish 12 strokes ahead of Tom Kite.
Notable: Woods' 12-shot victory was the largest in any major championship going back to the 1862 Open at Prestwick, which Tom Morris Sr. won by 13 shots -- in a field that had just eight players. Woods later set the standard when he won the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes.
"I said to the journalists there, if he can control his power, you have to give him first place every week. And that happened a lot." Costantino Rocca
Rocca's take: "I had played with him when he as an amateur at the U.S. Open [the year prior at Oakland Hills]. I saw the potential he had. I started well behind and after he made a birdie at No. 8, I knew then it wasn't going to happen.
"From the 13th to the 18th, the people supported him like crazy. I don't know if anyone remembered I was on the golf course. It was good for him, not for me. I missed a few chances on the front nine to get closer and that was that. And he recovered two or three times, the normal guy makes a bogey or a double-bogey, then you might have a chance. He played with confidence. His short game was fantastic. He had a great long game. But he controlled his power. I said to the journalists there, if he can control his power, you have to give him first place every week. And that happened a lot.''
Rocca today: Rocca, now 60, went on to win the European Tour's flagship event later in 1997, the Volvo PGA Championship. And later that year, he played a big role in Europe's Ryder Cup victory in Spain, defeating Woods in singles, 4 and 2 -- the only time Woods has lost a singles match in the Ryder Cup.
"At the Masters, he beat me,'' Rocca said. "At the Ryder Cup, I beat him. It's a different game. It is a good memory for me. And it was great playing with him. He's a great guy and he played hard.''
Rocca still competes on the European Senior Tour. (He bogeyed the final two holes at the 1997 Masters and tied for fifth, 15 strokes behind Woods.)
Postscript: In Woods' victory, he played the par-3s in even par, the par-4s in 5 under and the par-5s in 13 under for his record setting 18 under total. He led the field in driving distance, averaging 323.1 yards off the tee. He was tied for first in greens in regulation, hitting 55 of 72. He never 3-putted. And his clubs into the greens? On the 10 par-4 holes, he never had more than an 8-iron, with nothing but pitching wedges on the front side and sand wedges at the 17th and 18th holes. The win was the fourth of his PGA Tour career that has seen him win 79 times and the first of 14 majors. Afterward, he moved up to third in the world and two months later would be No. 1, a ranking he held for a total of 683 weeks during his career.