Twenty years ago, a young, 21-year-old, fresh-faced kid took the world by storm, donning a dark red sweater and a black Nike cap as he took down Augusta National Golf Club and quickly became a household name.
That name? Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.
For the next decade, golf fans traded their Sunday bests for Sunday red. And Tiger, he often covered his Sunday red with a jacket that matched the fairways he had obliterated for 72 straight holes.
As the summer heat quickly turns to brisk fall temperatures and eventual and inevitable snow, we’re running out of days to say goodbye to the 2017 golf season. Pro golfers have cashed their tour paychecks, and the rest of us hacks can stuff our clubs in the attic until May.
You may take these next few weeks to reflect on your summer and the balls you lost on the course. Maybe you’ll look back at Sergio Garcia’s Masters win in April; perhaps Justin Thomas’ six-birdie final round at the PGA Championship stands out.
While I soaked up plenty of golf this year — both as a player and a viewer — I’m constantly drawn back to the man in the red sweater.
I miss Tiger Woods.
I found myself in the dreaded YouTube black hole the other day, as one Tiger Woods throwback clip turned into a dozen. His putt on the island green at TPC Sawgrass is utterly baffling. I can hardly read the directions on Stouffer’s lasagna; Woods is some sort of savant when it comes to reading greens.
At the 20-year anniversary of Woods’ “hello” to the world, I took a deeper dive to remind myself why we loved the golfer so much.
The fact that Woods was 21 says plenty, but the guy won that 1997 Masters by 12 strokes. After two years at Stanford University — he also won his very first college tournament — Woods played in the Masters as an amateur in 1995 and made the cut. Two years later, he put together a four-day performance that included no round above 70 and a Saturday 65.
From that point forward, there was no Eldrick. Most of the time, there wasn’t even a Woods. He was just Tiger, and everybody knew him.
In 1999, Woods won the PGA Championship for the first time. A year later, he took home US Open and Open Championship crowns to quickly snatch all four Grand Slam titles. In those four tournaments, he won by a combined 36 strokes — including a bonkers 15-stroke win at the US Open. He’s also the only player to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in a row — the Tiger Slam.
He went on to stack 10 more major championships between a bunch of other tour stops. Eight tour wins in ‘99, nine (and three majors) in 2000. He won 14 events in 2005 and 2006, four of which were majors, including his iconic chip on the 16th green in the final round of the 2005 Masters. Again, YouTube is deadly. I could watch that chip 200 times in a row and still not comprehend what the heck just happened.
Seventy-nine tour victories in all to go with those 14 majors. He’s played in 327 tournaments and finished in the top 10 186 times. He’s missed just 27 cuts.
Woods won in his 100th career start, his 200th career start and 300th career start, showcasing the consistency of his dominance. He owns the lowest career scoring average in PGA Tour history, which has earned him a whopping $110 million in career earnings.
Woods’ last win came in 2013. His last start came in 2015. The now infamous Escalade crash, infidelity and divorce became as connected to Woods as the Nike swoosh.
Back surgeries, knee surgeries, swing changes and medication have kept Woods on our radar but off the course over the past few years.
While it once seemed inevitable that the greatest golfer in the world would cruise past Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships, we’re now asking ourselves if he’ll even play golf again. And if he does, can he win, or even make a cut?
I sure hope so. Re-read some of those stats; golf is better with that guy on the course.
But until his mighty return, I’ll continue watching him reach a 663-yard par 5 green in two shots at the 2000 Mercedes Championship and the hundreds of other shots that only make sense when they’re attached to Woods.
We need more red on Sundays.