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Woods' win a major step for minorities

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 27, 1999


As he walked the final fairway at Augusta National, Tiger Woods finished trampling tradition and history every bit as much as he was running roughshod over the rest of the field at the Masters.

"No one will turn their head when a black man walks to the first tee after this," said Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first black player at the Masters. "It could have more potential than Jackie Robinson breaking into baseball."

Woods' 18-under victory (a record) by 12 strokes (a record) over Tom Kite on April 13, 1997, was as much a sociological phenomenon as it was a sports event.

"I think winning here is going to do a lot for the game of golf," Woods said. "A lot of kids will start playing it now. And over time, hopefully, I'll be around to see the fruits of the things I've accomplished. And hopefully I've helped a lot of kids along the way."

He was 21, winning a major in his first shot at one as a pro. He was the youngest player to win the Masters in the 61-year history of the tournament, winning an event that didn't even invite a black player until the year he was born at a club that didn't invite a black member to join until 1990.

"I think that's why this victory is even more special," Woods said. "Lee Elder came here today and that meant a lot to me. He was the first. He was the one I looked up to, Charlie (Sifford), all of them.

"Because of them, I was able to play here. I was able to live my dream because of those guys. They came down and inspired me. I knew what I had to do. It really reinforced what I had to go out there and try to accomplish."

Excitement at the Masters tends to build slowly to a crescendo on the back nine, where the pressure of the tournament can bring a leader to his knees. If there was any pressure this time, Woods never showed it.

After one round, his 70 put him three strokes off John Huston's lead. Six-under 66 in the second round put him three shots ahead of Scotland's Colin Montgomerie. And 65 Saturday sent him into the final round with a nine-shot lead, a record for 54 holes, over Costantino Rocca.

Woods finished at 270, slicing one stroke off the record Jack Nicklaus set in 1965 and Raymond Floyd matched in 1976. When Augusta National went to bent-grass greens for the 1981 tournament, the 271 appeared untouchable. Nicklaus showed nothing but grace when Woods put his mark on the Masters. "My record's held up for 32 years," he said. "Raymond's held up for 21 years. And the golf course is a lot tougher now than it was then."

Until the final few holes, Woods threatened to break Old Tom Morris' record for largest margin of victory in any major -- 13 shots in the 1862 British Open at Prestwick.

Woods' victory was his fourth on the PGA Tour in his 15th start as a pro.


-- Staff writer Bob Harig contributed to this report.

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