Special to ESPN.com
That's how old he was. That's what made it so startling. Actually, that's what made it so scary.
No one had ever dominated a golf tournament, a course, a competition, like this ever before. Not Nicklaus. Not Palmer. Especially The Masters, golf's most celebrated tournament.
When someone rules the game as 21-year-old Tiger Woods did iin 1997, against the sport's greatest players, all you can do is shake your head and wonder in amazement at the gifted golfer.
April 13, 1997, The Masters, Augusta National Golf Club.
Tiger Woods is as perfect, as dominant, as a player can possibly be ... after the first half of the first round, that is. That's when Woods adjusts his swing at the turn by shortening his backswing, allowing him to find his groove -- a groove he doesn't lose for the next 3½ rounds.
Woods winds up shooting 70 for the first round, then burns up the course the next two rounds, shooting a staggering 66 and 65, entering the final round with an astounding nine-stroke lead. Woods, with his 350-yard drives, "reduced the course to nothing," as Jack Nicklaus said.
The final round is a formality with the nine-stroke advantage. Players like Woods do not blow nine-stroke leads. Players like Woods -- and there are none -- only come back and win nine shots down. As Woods walks around celebrated Amen Corner -- Augusta's hazardous stretch from No. 11 to 13 -- the crowd is standing 10 deep behind the ropes, screaming louder and louder the closer he gets. As he makes a 20-foot birdie putt at the 455-yard, par-4 11th, a howl rises and rolls down from the gallery. The shot boosts Woods' lead to 10 shots.
"Nobody," Tom Kite would say later, "was really in the hunt." Not on this day. This day is all Tiger's.
On the par-five 13, Woods hits a six-iron to 15 feet and two-putts for birdie. On No. 14, when Woods' eight-foot putt rolls in for yet another birdie, everyone knows it's so over. The legends of the game are in complete awe of this performance. "He's out there playing another game," Nicklaus would tell the press afterwards.
Augusta has never seen the likes of this before. It has never seen Tiger's power combined with a brilliant putting touch. Over the course of the tournament, Woods plays the par-5 holes in 13-under par.
"I never thought I would have the lead like I did," he would say later. "It's not what you envision. You envision dueling it out with Faldo or Nicklaus or Watson, someone who's awfully tough to beat down the stretch."
As Woods walks victoriously up the 18th fairway, waiting for him behind the green is his father, Earl, the man who trained Tiger for this moment. His mother, Kultida, is also there; she has walked the entire 18 holes, a bright red headband on her wide-brimmed hat.
As Woods strolls toward the green, right through a tunnel of wild applause, he slaps palms and high-fives people in the gallery, one fan after another. Woods ends the most dominant performance in Masters history with another perfect putt. Overcome with emotion, Woods walks toward his parents, tears in his eyes. He hugs them in a stirring emotional scene, then in the embrace of his father, he breaks down and weeps.
Woods finishes with a 69, winning by a record 12 shots over Kite. The last time a major championship was won by a 12-stroke margin was 1870. Woods' 72-hole score of 270 is the lowest ever, one shot better than Nicklaus in 1965 and Raymond Floyd in 1976. At 21, Woods becomes the youngest Masters winner, two years younger than 1980 champ Seve Ballesteros.
After a front-nine 40 in the first round, Woods plays the final 63 holes 22-under par. He plays 72 holes without a single three-putt green, even though the greens were eating up everybody else in the tournament. He also becomes the first minority to win the Masters.
When the long, 30-second embrace with his father is complete, and when the roar of crowd finally subsides, Woods slips on the renowned green jacket, his lifelong dream fulfilled.
He had entered his first Masters as a professional as the favorite. He left as a phenom, a marvel. As the crowds leave Augusta, the marquee sign atop the Fat Tuesday's on Washington Road, just a few hundred yards from country club's entrance, says: "Tiger Woods: Soon To Be Legend."