AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The pressure had not gotten to Tiger Woods throughout the 61st Masters. It didn't bother him when he started out with a 4-over par 40 on the front nine Thursday. It didn't disturb him when he finished off his historic victory with a tricky little four-foot putt for par on the 18th hole last night.
But when it came time to make his victory speech to the fans who remained at Augusta National, the youngest and first black Masters champion felt a little ill-prepared. As many times as he had been in this situation at countless tournaments around the world, as many years as he had to think about this moment, he forgot one thing.
"I've always dreamed of winning the Masters, of coming up the 18th fairway with a lead or in contention or a shot behind," HTC Woods told the crowd as members continued to whoop and holler as they had on the course. "I never thought as far as this ceremony. I learned."
Woods, 21, will likely get to repeat the ceremony many times over the course of his career. The question might be pondered between now and next year's Masters: Who presents the green jacket, in Woods' case a 42 extra long, when the champion successfully defends his title?
What might be difficult to repeat, at least by anyone other than Woods, is the performance the golf world watched the past four days.
With a 3-under-par 69 yesterday and a four-round total of 18-under 270, Woods won the first major championship he ever played in as a pro by a tournament-record 12 shots. He not only shattered that record, of nine set by Jack Nicklaus in 1965, but also broke the record of 17-under shared by Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd. He also became only the second player in the modern era to win the Masters in his first appearance as a pro.
About the only record Woods didn't break among his seven was the largest margin of victory in any major championship. Only a birdie on the last hole by Tom Kite, who finished second at 6-under-par, prevented Woods from sharing the record of 13 shots set by Old Tom Morris in the 1862 British Open. He does join Young Tom Morris, who won the 1870 British Open by 12. The previous record this century was shared by Nicklaus and James Barnes, who won the 1921 U.S. Open by nine.
"I knew I had to get through Amen Corner with par [for the round] at the worst," Woods said. "I couldn't afford to let up on my concentration or anything. All you have to do is put it in the water on 11 or 12 and there it goes.
"After I got by what I would say are the water holes on the last nine, after I hit the tee shot at 16, even though I screwed it up, I knew it was pretty much over because I knew I could bogey in and stuff."
Instead, Woods took pars on the last three holes. The final one came after he put his approach on the par-4 18th hole about 30 feet above the hole. It was a difficult putt to lag, because of the severe slope of the green and severe four-foot break. Those were the thoughts that entered in this seemingly steely mind as Woods walked up to the green. The huge crowd applauded. His parents cried.
All Tiger Woods could think about was the putt he had at 18.
"I had a tough putt, that was my thought," said Woods, who hooked his drive at 18 after hearing a camera shutter click behind the tee box. "When I first walked on the green, I saw everybody clapping and stuff, but I looked at my putt and said, 'Geez I've got a tough one.' My focus never left me is what I'm trying to say. It was a special moment. I knew I had to take care of business. I was at 18-under-par, which was the scoring record."
Though he missed the putt badly, Woods took his time on his par putt before getting in his stance. When the ball disappeared in the cup, he pumped his fist a couple of times, plucked the ball out and hugged his caddie, Mike "Fluff" Cowan. After shaking the hand of playing partner Costantino Rocca of Italy, Woods walked in the direction of the scorer's tent and hugged his parents. Tears streamed down Woods' face, as well as his parents'.
"It's a wonderful thing to see someone achieve his dreams," said Earl Woods, who began teaching his son the game at the age of 2. "That's why you should never give up your dreams. He told me when he was 5 that he was going to win the Masters. I told him that he first had to grow up."
Said Kultida Woods, his Thai-born mother: "That was the most proud moment of my life as the mother of an only child. He wanted to win this tournament so badly and now he has."
It was Earl Woods, still recovering from heart-bypass surgery last month, who had told his famous son how difficult yesterday's round would be. With nobody closer than Rocca, who was nine shots behind after the third round, the younger Woods would have to find something other than competition to motivate him.
"Last night my pop told me that this will be one of the toughest rounds I'd ever play," Woods recalled. "He told me, 'If you be yourself, it will also be one of the most rewarding.' He was right."
Woods wanted to do one thing yesterday. He didn't want to make a bogey, which would have helped him break Ben Hogan's record of 45 straight holes without a bogey. His own streak ended at 37 after Woods bogeyed the par-4 fifth. He also would bogey the seventh after one of several errant drives.
But a birdie on the par-5 eighth started his scoring record run. Birdies on 11, 13 and 14 gave him the record.
Asked how long he expected the record to stand -- when he returned next year, someone suggested -- Woods smiled. "I really don't know." He was asked if he could do better. "I guess if you take away the 40."
The victory, his fourth as a pro, was worth $486,000 and a lifetime Masters exemption for Woods. It also likely gave him what was a foregone conclusion -- a place on the Ryder Cup team.
But it also gave Woods his own special place in the lore of this tournament and Augusta National.
Maybe he can start working on next year's victory speech.
The time is ticking away.
T. Woods .. .. ..70-66-65-69-270
and selected followers
T. Kite .. .. ...77-69-66-70-282
T. Tolles .. .. .72-72-72-67-283
T. Watson .. .. .75-68-69-72-284
P. Stankowski .. 68-74-69-74-285
C. Rocca .. .. ..71-69-70-75-285
J. Sluman .. .. .74-67-72-73-286
F. Couples .. ...72-69-73-72-286
D. Love III .. ..72-71-72-71-286
B. Langer .. .. .72-72-74-68-286
T. Lehman .. .. .73-76-69-69-287
F. Funk .. .. ...75-73-69-72-288
J. Huston .. .. .67-77-75-70-289
N. Price .. .. ..71-71-75-74-291
P. Azinger .. ...69-73-77-74-293
F. Zoeller .. ...75-73-69-78-295
J. Nicklaus .. ..77-70-74-78-299
B. Crenshaw .. ..75-73-74-80-302
Steadman: Woods tests limits of belief. 8c
Woods' impact felt in the Baltimore area, too. 9c
Pub Date: 4/14/97