Tiger Woods: Before the Fall

If someone was watching Tiger Woods for the first time at this year’s Masters golf tournament, struggling his way to a 40th-place finish, they probably scratched their heads, wondering what all the fuss was about? He’s an OK player, sure, but why are all cameras and commentators covering his every move?

Those who remember a much-younger Tiger would know the answer. On this day in 1997, the then 21-year-old golfer shook up the sporting world by capturing his first Master’s, by a record 12 strokes. His breathtaking drives, sterling short-game and dead-eye putts made him an instant sensation, drawing record television ratings for the event.

Tiger parlayed his Master’s victory into a stretch of play unmatched in the annals of professional golf, winning PGA Tour player of the year nine times in the next 13 years. Not only did he dominate, winning 72 tournaments (including 14 major championships), he changed the way the game was played. Golf courses were altered – or Tiger-proofed – and competitors began copying his now famous workout regimen, in order to keep up with the champ.

But it all came crashing down in 2009, when tabloids broke the story of his alleged extramarital affairs and fuelled rumours that his wife, Elin Nordegren, was in some way responsible for injuries he sustained as a result of a late-night car crash outside his 10,000 sq-foot mansion in Florida.

After the subsequent divorce and time off to recuperate from injuries, Tiger managed to put the chaos behind him and return to the Tour in 2010, but has achieved only middling success since. Who knows whether he’ll be able to rediscover the stroke that made him one of the greatest ever. Yet even if he doesn’t win another tournament, memories of that magnificent 1997 Masters victory will linger in our collective sporting memory for a long time to come.

-Peter Muggeridge