By DOUG FERGUSON
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
AUGUSTA, GA. -- The first green jacket was all about the future.
The fifth green jacket Tiger Woods won on Sunday at the Masters was more about the past, better measured by a powerful celebration and enormous popularity than by any ripple effect it might have in golf.
Tim Finchem was in this third year as PGA Tour commissioner in 1997 when a 21-year-old Woods set 20 records at Augusta National with a 12-shot victory that made him the youngest Masters champion.
Finchem is now in his third year of retirement from the PGA Tour, with his own green jacket as an Augusta National member. He was at the Masters most of the week until watching with millions of others on Sunday, with a different perspective than most.
"It was eerie to me on Sunday because in my mind, this was just a '97 repeat. It was incredible," Finchem said on Tuesday. "But then I started thinking about it, and it's not that at all. It was very different."
Woods was the freight train everyone heard coming in 1997.
The most dominant junior ever, he won three straight U.S.
Junior Amateurs and three straight U.S. Amateurs. The last one was held the same week as the World Series of Golf at Firestone, and Finchem once recalled how players would watch the U.S.
Amateur in the locker room and wonder what they were in for when Woods turned pro.
Within two months, Woods qualified for the Tour Championship by winning twice in seven starts. He won the Tournament of Champions to start the next year.
And then he demolished the field and Augusta National like no one had ever seen, making him the first man of colour in a green jacket.
It remains his most significant victory because it changed the entire golf landscape.
"Golf fans were all into him," Finchem said. "But they hadn't seen that much of him, except for winning tournaments."
Now they know a lot more - too much, at times.
It's those 22 years between his first and latest major that make No. 15 the most popular of all.
"Between then and now, these people have watched his every move - every difficult challenge, losing his game, coming back, private issues - and so they know a lot more about him as a person," Finchem said. "They love to watch him play golf."
Ratings still spike whenever he plays. Galleries are larger and louder. It's been that way since 1997, even during the lean years for Woods, when his image was tarnished through tabloid stories of extramarital affairs, when his body began to break down and his glutes didn't activate, when he returned too soon from his first back surgery and went five years without winning.
The appeal never left. When he plays, people want to watch.
When he wasn't playing - Woods went two straight years without a tee time in the majors - the legend grew, because all anyone had were memories, and those were far more powerful than anything he showed on the golf course.
That's why his latest Masters victory was so amazing to so many. Memories became real.
There was audible excitement in the press building, from a younger generation that had never seen him win a major, from an older generation that thought it might never happen again.
It felt for a moment that nothing had changed, when so much has. And in some respects, that makes it even bigger.
A 43-year-old Tiger Woods throws his arms up upon winning the Masters for a fifth time in Augusta, Ga., on Sunday.