Tiger's historic '97 Masters win still resonates

Augusta (United States) (AFP) - Before Tiger Woods became a legend with 14 major titles or saw his golf career dimmed by injury, he was a 21-year-old who made history with an amazing Masters triumph.

And 20 years later, that epic 1997 victory at Augusta National remains a turning point for the sport, the man and even the course.

A crestfallen Woods confirmed Friday that he had lost his battle to be fit for Augusta, two decades after a victory whose effects are still felt today.

Golf popularity and prize money have reached new heights thanks to the extra attention and fans Woods brought to the sport with his shot-making skills and charisma.

"There's no doubt that we feel what Tiger Woods has done for the game of golf every week we tee it up, how he has transcended the sport, brought so many more people to the fan base," Northern Ireland star Graeme McDowell said. "The biggest athletes in the world, Tiger and (NBA legend) Michael Jordan, are maybe bigger than their sport."

Woods became the first black golfer to win a major, the youngest to capture the Masters at age 21 and he shattered records to win by 12 strokes with an 18-under par 270 total for 72 holes.

His triumph touched off "Tigermania" as his popularity and the sport's profile soared. He became an epic pitchman, endorsement income helping him crack $1 billion by some estimates, and moved him four major wins shy of the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus.

An infamous sex cheating scandal revealed in 2009 led to divorce while knee and back injuries dimmed his once-mighty drives, leaving his future career in doubt at 41.

But his legacy lives on. Augusta National was lengthened and a "second cut" added in the wake of Woods, technology advances and players becoming fitter to answer the challenge Woods threw at them to reach peak physical levels.

Beyond that, the youth that watched on television as Woods electrified the golf world in 1997 at Augusta were inspired to become champions themselves, his legacy in their success as well.

- 'Tiger really got me into golf' -

"I was nine years old and getting into golf," Australian star Jason Day recalled. "My dad had this turn-knob TV with bunny ears and you had to move the antenna to get the right picture and it was like really early in the morning.

"I remember him walking up the 18th and he had obliterated the field... Tiger really got me into golf, that moment when he won the '97 Masters and I started playing more."

Rickie Fowler recalled the fightback nature for Woods in 1997 after he played the front nine of the first round in 40, before four birdies and an eagle let him play the back nine in 30 to stand fourth on 70 after round one.

"Well, he started off terrible. It wasn't a good front nine," Fowler said. "It was something I remember, it was record setting, him going out and getting his first green jacket.

"It was impressive what he was able to do the next 63 holes after going out the way he did. Something to take from that. Something you have to learn a little bit is you just never give up.

"That's probably one of my most memorable tournaments, just because I was eight, so it was right in my prime. I watched it multiple times and it definitely did not look like he had a chance to win, if you looked at him after nine holes."

- Won by 'ridiculous amount' -

Not everyone, however, was paying attention.

"That's the one where he won by a ridiculous amount of golf shots? I was only 10. I wasn't into golf at that time," said reigning Masters champion Danny Willett of England.

World number one Dustin Johnson, who grew up only an hour's drive from Augusta, was 12 when Woods won in 1997.

"I have no idea where I was. Probably at home," Johnson said. "I remember watching it. Could I tell you the shots he was hitting? No. But I do remember watching him win. It was a long time ago, 20 years ago. Wow."