Whether it was the white manor clubhouse or the all-black servants who worked there, Augusta National's history as a bastion of exclusivity cast a shadow longer than a Tiger Woods tee shot that hangs timelessly in the air. What better place for a man of color to take his spot among the all-time greats? Woods did that on April 13, 1997, winning a Masters Tournament that will never be forgotten.
At an event that did not invite a black player until the year he was born, Woods broke barriers that were expected to change the game for years to come.
"No one will turn their head when a black man walks to the first tee after this," said Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first black player at The Masters. "It could have more potential than Jackie Robinson breaking into baseball."
Elder arrived at Augusta National the morning of the final round to take part in the history-making day, one that turned into a celebratory stroll among the masses for Woods, whose huge lead was never threatened.
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Woods shot 3-under 69 in the final round to complete 72 holes at 270, 18 under par. Tom Kite finished 12 strokes back, the widest margin of victory in Masters history. Woods' winning score broke the tournament scoring record held by Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd. And at 21, he became the youngest Masters winner.
All that was important to him, but winning at a club that didn't invite a black person to join until 1990 and was long viewed as one trying to keep African-Americans out of its tournament was also on Woods' mind.
"I think that's why this victory is even more special," said Woods, who was playing in his first major as a pro. "Lee Elder came here today, and that meant a lot to me. He was the first. He was the one I looked up to. Charlie [Sifford], all of them. Because of them, I was able to play here. I was able to live my dream because of those guys. They came down and inspired me. I knew what I had to do. It really reinforced what I had to go out there and try to accomplish."
Tiger's father, Earl, made him keenly aware of those who came before him in the game. Elder was the first of only four black players to compete in The Masters. Sifford, who in the 1960s accused then Masters chairman Clifford Roberts of bending the rules to keep him out, never played in the tournament. He was 74 when Tiger first did, and he reveled in Woods' victory, calling it a "dream come true. I tried so hard to get the opportunity to play there. I am not angry about it. The people at Augusta had their rules, and I respect that. I stood up for what was right, and I am not ashamed of it. I would do the same thing over again."
The victory was the fourth of Woods' young career and came in just his 15th start since turning professional in August 1996. And there was never much doubt about it. Masters drama typically reaches its zenith during Sunday's back nine, but Woods never let anybody get closer than the nine-shot lead he carried into the final round. For a time, he threatened the record for largest margin of victory in a major championship set by Old Tom Morris in 1862 when he won the British Open at Prestwick by 13 shots. "My focus never left me," Woods said. "Even with all the emotion and everybody cheering me on, I knew I had to take care of business first."
Other than a front-nine 40 to open the tournament, Woods was nearly flawless. He dominated the par 5s, playing them in 13 under par. He was 16 under par on the back nine. For the tournament, he hit 55 of 72 greens in regulation (76.4 percent) and averaged just over 29 putts per round and a driving distance of 323 yards.
"To shoot 18 under par on this golf course, as difficult as it played all week, is an incredible feat," Kite said. "I don't care what race he is. He's a golfer. He's a person. He's a great kid; he's got very high standards. His parents did a hell of a job raising him. When you see nice people do great things, it's pretty awesome."
Even at his relatively young age, Woods seemed to be aware of the victory's possible impact.
"I think winning here is going to do a lot for the game of golf," he said. "A lot of kids will start playing it now. And over time, hopefully, I'll be around to see the fruits of the things I've accomplished. And hopefully I've helped a lot of kids along the way."
Woods received loud, boisterous ovations all day, and as he approached the 18th green with tears in his eyes, he thought of the pioneers such as Elder and Sifford.
"I said a little of prayer of thanks to those guys," Woods said.
Off the 18th green, an emotional exchange took place with his parents before the traditional green jacket ceremony. Woods slipped into the coat as though it was always meant to be draped around his shoulder, becoming an honorary member of the club in the process.
Augusta National -- and golf -- would never be the same.
Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.