‘It was fantasyland and Disney World wrapped into one’: Tiger Woods’ Masters debut in 1995 got off to the most humiliating start… but the fearless 19-year-old was made for the spotlight and it set him well on the way
- Tiger Woods qualified for his Masters debut in 1995 as the US amateur champion
- The 19-year-old American would finish tied 41st on five over par for tournament
- Woods discovered the hard way of the relentless undulating greens at Augusta
- His debut would build platform to conquer the world of golf for years to come
When a 19-year-old Tiger Woods stood over his first-ever putt at the Masters on his debut in 1995, it is fair to say the American prodigy was in for a rude awakening.
‘People on the other side of the green started moving,’ Woods remembered after sending his first putt on its way. ‘It’s never good when you hit a putt and people start to move.’
After lining up a 25-footer for birdie on the par-four first hole – named ‘Tea Olive’ – Woods sent the ball on its way but it kept rolling and before he knew it, it came to rest 50 feet down the embankment and off the green.
Tiger Woods signs autographs for patrons during his debut appearance at the Masters in 1995
Patrons line the fairway as Woods announces himself on the golfing scene at Augusta
The 19-year-old garnered huge attention at Augusta as he made his debut as a college kid
Back went the putter and out came the short iron as Woods produced what he described as a ‘chicken shot’ that would eventually lead to him making an unsettling bogey on the first.
Down among the patrons there was squirming as they watched Woods – who arrived at Augusta in April 1995 having qualified as the US amateur champion – on the end of his first-ever humiliation at the Masters.
For many, it could have been the start of an early surrender at the hands of unforgiving Augusta but for Woods – still a college kid at Stanford making his debut major championship appearance – it set him firmly on his way.
After enjoying practice rounds with the likes of Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Nick Price, Raymond Floyd and Fred Couples, he was paired with defending champion Jose Maria Olazabal in his opening round. This could have intimidated even the most-seasoned of pros.
But despite the immense pressures that faced the fresh-faced American, Woods managed to bounce back after his opening bogey by claiming a birdie at the par-five second after a magnificent approach to the green from beneath some trees.
As Woods attempted to get to grips with the incredible and pristine scenes that awaited him at Augusta, a roller-coaster of a first round followed but he stayed mentally strong to record a level-par 72 that would leave Olazabal more than impressed.
Woods acclimatised to Augusta by enjoying practice rounds with the likes of Greg Norman
The American prodigy plays a shot as Nick Faldo watches on intently in the background
‘I needed binoculars to see where he hit the ball,’ said the Spaniard of Woods, who finished the week as tournament leader in average driving distance – 311.1 yards. Olazabal knew there was a special talent ready to conquer the world of golf, and so evidently did the patrons.
Crowds were already swarming around the teenager despite the boy-wonder playing in his first-ever major.
Woods had been building up for his moment in the spotlight since his father Earl presented him with a club before his first birthday – having been captivated by the Masters since watching it on television for the first time in 1980.
He had indeed been under the spotlight since he was just two years old when he competed against comedian Bob Hope in a putting contest on The Mike Douglas Show.
Woods had always garnered incredible attention and it was only a matter of time until he could show the world that he was ready to begin his quest of conquering golf.
Woods had felt comfortable from the get-go at the Masters and was even pretty underwhelmed by his first glimpse of Augusta National.
Woods didn’t let the buzz surrounding him affect his game during his debut at the Masters
Woods finished in a tie for 41st on his debut, shooting five-over par for the tournament
The iconic canopy of blooming Magnolia trees that line up along the 300 metre-driveway to the iconic clubhouse certainly didn’t leave him in awe.
‘Magnolia Lane, is that it?’ a 19-year-old Woods asked reporters. ‘It was a pretty short drive. From what everyone says, it’s majestic.’
And his ability to not let the occasion get the better of him certainly set him on his way a quarter of a century ago as he became only the fourth black player, and first black amateur, to compete at Augusta.
After shooting level-par in his opening round, the teenager – born and raised in Cypress, California – managed a repeat in round two to earn his stay for the weekend where the race for the Green Jacket would really heat up.
Woods unfortunately wrote himself out of contention with a disappointing 77 on moving day but a third 72 followed in his final round to place him in a hugely respectable tie for 41st on five-over par.
Immediately after the close of play, Woods signed off his dream week with a visit to the prestigious Butler Cabin. And he spoke of his unique new way of life as he balanced the demands of elite golf with college.
Woods speaks about his new way of life in the Butler Cabin after realising his dream at 19
After learning he could compete against the biggest names in golf, he was asked how long he would stay in college for, to which Woods replied: ‘Well I am going to go all four.
‘There’s no hurry to get out of here, it’s a tough world out here and it’s all business. Right now I’m only 19 years old and I feel it’s only right for me to live it up a little bit.
‘You are only young once and college is such a great atmosphere and I really love it there.’
Just hours after competing at Augusta, Woods had to go straight back to college for a 9am class the next morning in history. It was his new way of life – one minute he is living out his fantasy, the next he is back to reality.
Woods in fact showed his gratitude to Augusta, by writing a letter of thanks after letting him strut his stuff on the biggest stage of all.
The letter began: ‘Please accept my sincere thanks for providing me the opportunity to experience the most wonderful week of my life. It was fantasyland and Disney World wrapped into one.’
Woods added: ‘It is here that I left my youth and became a man.’
Just two years later in 1997, Woods recorded his first-ever major win at the Masters
But Woods’ aim of seeing out the remainder of his years at college failed to materialise as the world of professional golf came calling.
Two years into life at Stanford, the American sensation turned professional in August 1996 at the age of 20, and immediately signed advertising deals with Nike and Titleist that ranked as the most lucrative endorsement contracts in golf history at the time.
And since that moment, he has never looked back. Woods would go on to claim his first major, at the Masters in 1997, in record-breaking fashion becoming the tournament’s youngest winner at 21 years old.
‘He may win 10 Masters like Jack Nicklaus said he might,’ Tom Watson said of Woods after his 12-stroke victory on 18-under par. ‘He may be the type of player that only comes around in a millennium. He’s got the heart of a lion.’
That triumphant moment would change the golfing landscape forever and just two months later, he set the record for the fastest ascent to No 1 in the official world rankings.
Fast forward 23 years, and Woods has gone on to rack up a staggering 15 major triumphs – with his latest coming at Augusta last year in what was an incredible renaissance.
Whether Woods can end up equalling or even surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories remains to be seen, but one thing we do know is that the fresh-faced 19-year-old American from 1995 has certainly lived out his dream and more.
The 44-year-old emotionally celebrates winning his latest major at Augusta last year
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