Tiger Woods celebrated the 25th anniversary of a maiden Masters appearance by paying tribute to the Augusta National patrons who helped carry him to a fifth Masters green jacket and a 15th Major success last year.
Woods was aged just 19 when he made his debut as a then amateur in 1995 and managed to play all four rounds to share 41st place. He then teed-up in the 1996 Masters carrying enormous hype and expectation as a pro only to miss the halfway cut. Twelve months later, Woods rewrote the Masters record books running away with a 12-shot victory with CBS TV remarking at the time: “A win for the ages”.
Then for the first time in his career, Woods came from behind over the final day to end a long nine-year Major victory drought in posting a last day 70. And with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic ruling out the presence of Augusta patrons, Woods spoke of the support of the patrons some 18 month ago that helped him to victory.
“The patrons, absolutely they did, they helped me win,” said Woods. “The support that I had, the energy that was around the property, it was electric that day. We all miss the energy of the crowds. And yes, this year is going to be very different. It’s going to be stark in what we see, our sights into the greens, the energy that you hear from different roars, from different parts of the golf course. I mean, you’re on the putting green up on 1 and you can hear eagles down on 13.
“That’s what this tournament is all about, and we’re not going to have that this year. It’s going to be very different. It’s one that none of us have ever experienced. So, we’re all going to go through it together at the same time and it’s going to be a very different experience, and you know, hopefully one that I can figure it out and be able to replicate what I did last year.”
And while Augusta has stopped the presence of patrons and also cancelled the ‘Par-3 Contest’ and closed the merchandise outlets, there was one Masters tradition going ahead and that was the ‘Former Champions Dinner’ albeit with strong social-distancing measures in place. Woods, as dinner host for a fifth occasion in his career, spoke of his memories in having attended 22 past Champions Dinners.
“To see Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead drinking milkshakes, that was awesome,” said Woods smiling. “Just to hear the stories of all the guys over the years. The stuff that we say in the dinners stays between us, and that’s the most awesome part about it is we keep it in house and keep it within the family. They are awesome stories and a lot of things I can’t say here that have been said, but they are awesome.”
There will also be a rare first this year brought on by the decision to move the event to the autumn – a two tee start for the opening two rounds.
“It’s never been done before,” as Woods rightly pointed out. “I think when Jack finished in his last Masters, he had to tee off on 10 and finished coming up nine. You know, this whole year has been very different for all of us. For us to be able to have the ability to have this event and play this event early in the year, we weren’t looking like we were going to have this opportunity. The fact that we had an opportunity to be able to play; the fact that we are going off two tees, I think it’s irrelevant. The fact that we have the opportunity to be able to play and compete for the Masters again, is an awesome opportunity.”
Woods will play the opening rounds in the company of reigning Open Champion, Shane Lowry and 2019 US Amateur champion, Andy Ogletree, a 22-year old from Mississippi.
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