It was his first major as a professional. He had played six majors as an amateur, never finishing in the top 20, only five rounds under par. And while he already had won three of his 14 starts on the PGA TOUR since turning pro, most of the hype had been driven by Jack Nicklaus' audacious prediction that Woods might win as many green jackets -- 10 -- as Nicklaus and Palmer combined.
'All the fuss had been there. Everyone said this guy was so good,' Thomas Bjorn said. 'But players out here, we've all heard it: 'Here comes a new great one.' After Augusta, everyone realized there's something special here. This was a different class.'
Woods set 20 records that week, from youngest Masters champion (21) to 72-hole score (270) to largest victory margin (12 strokes). His victory was a watershed moment in golf.
Here is a reconstruction of that week in the words of 11 people who had contact with him that week, including an interview with Woods. The others were playing partners Nick Faldo, Paul Azinger and Colin Montgomerie; caddie Mike Cowan; swing coach Butch Harmon; golf anchor Jim Nantz, executive producer Lance Barrow and analyst David Feherty of CBS Sports; Isleworth neighbor Mark O'Meara, and PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem:
The week before:
After winning the season opener at La Costa in a playoff, Woods' spring had been relatively ordinary. In his last event before the Masters, he tied for 31st in his debut at The Players Championship, finishing 17 shots out of the lead.
He spent the week before the Masters practicing and playing at Isleworth.
O'Meara: 'I had a friend of mine who owns a Japanese restaurant that I invited to play. Tiger comes onto the range and said, 'You want to play golf?' My friend was pretty jacked up to come play with me at Isleworth. The next thing you know Tiger is with us. It was the easiest 59 you could ever see anyone shoot. He should have shot 56. There were two par 5s on the front. He had a 3-iron into one and a 5-iron into another and made par on both of them. And he still shot 59.'
Wednesday, April 8:
Whatever good vibes Woods had about his game were gone by the time he got to Augusta National for his practice rounds. What concerned him most was his putting.
Woods: 'I was still hitting it good, but I couldn't shake it in. I felt uneasy with my stroke. For some reason, it just left me on the flight from Orlando to Augusta. I worked on it for hours and couldn't find it. My speed was good, but I could never start the ball on line, not consistently. Finally, I had enough and I went to my dad. I said, 'Dad, I can't figure this out.' He had a look at it, told me a couple of things I needed to do, and all of a sudden, I started feeling a little more comfortable.'
Harmon: 'He just felt so good. He was anxious for Thursday to get here. It was like, 'Put me in coach.' He was almost too anxious. And I think that's why he jumped out to a 40. Maybe that 40 was the best thing that happened to him. It was a slap in the face.'
Woods: 'Without a doubt, I was too revved up. Because I was playing really well, probably the best stretch I've ever had in my life. I shot 59. I was ready. But you don't want to be ready a week before. You want to be ready on Thursday.
Thursday, April 9:
The tradition at Augusta National is to pair the defending champion with the U.S. Amateur champion. Even though Woods turned pro after winning the Amateur, he still played the opening round with Faldo.
Woods: 'Faldo was by far the quietest (partner). I said I had a Titleist 1 on the first tee and, 'Good luck today.' And I shook his hand and gave him his scorecard. There were no words exchanged. I said, 'Nice shot, nice putt.' But I got nothing back. That's how he played. That's the way he was.'
Faldo: 'I remember we both went out in 40. He was in the trees to the left, I was in the trees to the right. The rest is a blur.'
Harmon: 'Everyone said, 'This is much ado about nothing.' I didn't see anything on the front nine that I thought was bad. It was one of those nine holes where nothing happened, and every time something could go wrong, it went wrong. But he turned it around immediately.'
Woods: 'All of a sudden on 9 I hit a good putt for bogey from 3 feet and it felt really good. Then I hit a good 2-iron (on No. 10) like I had been hitting at home. I said, 'Let's keep the feeling of the swing, keep the feeling of the putt, and see if I can marry that up for nine holes, and see if I can get back to even par for the day.''
Faldo: 'He had played the Masters before, but this was his first as a professional. We all thought -- I thought, too -- that you needed experience. What was impressive was the back nine. He whittled away and gets back in 30. He chipped in for birdie on No. 12, and who knows? That might have changed everything for him. But that's what Tiger is so good at. He deals with one shot at a time. He was good then, and he's the best at it now. He just hits the reset button, so 100 percent of him is on the next shot.'
Woods: 'Even though I hit the ball well on the back nine, if I don't chip in on 12, if I don't make the putt on 9, it doesn't happen. I don't get the confidence going forward.'
Friday, April 11:
Woods is paired in the second round with Azinger, who opened with a 69. Azinger never had seen Woods play and rarely watches anyone in his group. He couldn't resist on the par-5 second hole.
Azinger: 'I turned to my caddie, Mark Jimenez, and I said, 'I heard this guy hits it a mile. Let's see if he hits it over the bunker.' You know how high the pine trees are on the left? His ball is 7 to 8 feet right of the trees, just underneath the tree line. As soon as he hit it, I looked at my caddie and said, the easiest 66 I'd ever seen.'
Woods wound up with a three-shot lead over Montgomerie, who had twice lost in a playoff at majors. Montgomerie appreciated how far Woods hit the ball, but he said after the round that the pressure was mounting.
'I've got experience, a lot more experience in major golf than he has,' Montgomerie said that day. 'And hopefully, I can prove that.'
Woods was back at his house when he saw the comments on television.
Woods: 'I totally understand his point, which is totally valid. But I kept saying to myself, 'He hasn't won one, either.' How can you make this statement when he hasn't won one. He'd won the Order of Merit. But he'd never won a major. So the ultimate experience, neither one of us had. I think it was a blank slate. It's a push. Now, who's playing better?'
Saturday, April 12:
Woods was playing better. He shot 65, finishing his round with an approach that spun off the fringe to 4 feet for birdie and a nine-shot lead, a record at the Masters. Montgomerie shot 74, and surprisingly made a visit to the press center, where he delivered a memorable line. A year after Greg Norman blew a six-shot lead, Montgomerie said there was no way humanly possible Woods could lose the Masters.
'Faldo's not lying second,' he said, 'and Greg Norman is not Tiger Woods.'
Barrow: 'It was my first year producing the Masters. I remember (Masters chairman) Jack Stephens and Nick Faldo coming down to our compound -- Jack Stephens rarely did that. I said, 'Do you want to look at our tease?' We had a gorgeous opening of the show. We were very proud of it. Jack said, 'That's really great. When are we going to show live golf?' I said, 'As soon as we come on the air, Mr. Stephens.''
Montgomerie: 'He never missed a putt from 8 feet when I played with him. You have this sort of length at the Masters, and you've got them all day. You've got them for par, you've got them for good shots in for birdie. He never missed. Yes, he hit it miles, and straight. But there's a lot more to Tiger Woods than that. We all know that. A lot more to him. And I found out that day.'
Harmon: 'Tiger went out on the range for 30 minutes, more to relax and let the nervous system unwind. Saturday night at the house, he did all the same things. He takes his yardage book home, meditates, visualizes how to play every hole.'
Woods: 'Saturday night with Dad, he and I were just sitting there, past midnight, and we were just rapping. 'He said, 'You know, it's going to be the most important round of your life, but you can handle it. Just go out there and do what you do. Just get in your own little world and go out there and just thrash 'em.''
Sunday, April 13, 1997:
Faldo, who had missed the cut, was sitting on the bench outside the clubhouse Sunday morning, waiting for the tournament to end so he could present the green jacket to the winner. Camera crews were milling about in the parking lot.
Feherty: It was my first Masters, and I was still wondering what the hell I was doing there. That was when we started to attack players before the round on their way into the clubhouse. My whole career hinged on getting Tiger Woods to say a few words into the camera. He stepped out of the car and ... and I had never seen that look in my life. He looked radioactive. It was like he had a force field around him, like I could hit him in the head with a baseball bat and it wouldn't reach his head. I thought, 'Who needs this career?' Because there was no way I was going to go near him.'
Barrow: 'I remember coming on the air Sunday and picking up Costantino Rocca and Tiger hitting their second shots on No. 5. Other than a rain delay, that was the furthest we'd ever gone back to show live golf at Augusta. I told our guys that morning, we're going to walk every step with Tiger.'
Woods: 'I kept telling myself all day, 'If I birdie the par 5s and make no bogeys, nobody can catch me. I've got too big of a lead, so don't do anything stupid.' What do I do? I made bogey on 5 with a 9-iron in my hand. I said that's enough of this. I got it back with the birdie on 8. That was huge, because it got the momentum back on my side.'
Cowan: 'Two shots really stood out that week. One was a chip on the 13th hole Saturday from behind the green with the pin on the top shelf. And the other was 8 on Sunday. He's behind the mounds on the left, the pin is short right. He would have done well to get that about 10 or 12 feet from the hole. He hits it in there about 4 feet and makes birdie.'
Woods came to the 72nd hole with a 12-shot lead, needing a par to set the Masters scoring record. A camera went off on his back swing and he pulled the ball well to the left. He still only had 9-iron to the green, which he hit about 40 feet from the hole.
Woods: 'I hadn't three-putted all week, and I left myself with the hardest two-putt on the green. To play 71 holes at Augusta with the lead and without a three-putt in your first major as a pro? I kept saying, 'Why couldn't you hit it to the right?' The entire time, I was chewing myself out, meanwhile trying to smile, trying to enjoy the moment. But also chewing myself out. 'Stay focused, get the speed right ... I can't believe you did this ... Get the speed right ... Why couldn't you hit it to the right?''
He rolled it 4 feet away, holed the par putt and punched the air with a now famous uppercut. Then he walked off the green and into the arms of his father, Earl Woods, both breaking down in tears.
Woods: 'When I hugged him on 18, looking back at it now, I could not have won the tournament without him.'
Nantz: 'We knew this guy was special, but this was ridiculously great, a whole new level of greatness. There wasn't any doubt who was going to win. But there was drama to it, even though he knocked the life out of the competition.'
Finchem: 'I was there waiting for the finish. It was a foregone conclusion. He set the stage for the future. From then on it was only a question of details. How many does he win? Does he challenge the big, long-term records? What was in my head was if he stays like this, and plays like this, and stays healthy and challenges the big records -- which takes decades -- that's going to be an awesome impact on the game. So I was pretty excited.'
Faldo: 'At the time, I thought this was the only major he could win. For one, the golf course suited him. But also because the Masters was the only major that the media was kept outside the ropes. And I thought that was going to be his biggest challenge. But as he showed, he can deal with it. Now it's his greatest asset. Everyone joining him now on the weekend at a major goes into his world. That's Tiger's arena. Other guys will step into that arena one week and go back out. He's there all the time. And good luck coming into his world.'