Tiger's game-changing triumph in 1997 is year zero for golf's new breed

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The Independent Online

Although tiger Woods put on a great last-round charge last night, his biggest impact on the 75th Masters may have been winning the tournament in 1997. Tiger's historic triumph by 12 strokes has been cited time and again as their main inspiration by the new generation of jacket-seekers, not least third-round leader Rory McIlroy.

As Woods attempts to rediscover his major-winning form, his task is made all the harder by this wave of young players. Back when Tiger was the boy wonder, he was the only one. Now there are so many contenders that as McIlroy imploded shockingly after retaining the lead through to the 10th tee, there were still others to take up the baton and leave Woods just short of redemption. There were the Australians Adam Scott and the 23-year-old Jason Day, followed ultimately by the new champion Charl Schwartzel.

Anniversaries are one of the big traditions at Augusta so there have been reminiscences about Gary Player becoming the first overseas player to win 50 years ago – so fitting with Schwartzel becoming the third South African champion. They do not usually celebrate 14-year anniversaries but the relevance has been forced upon everyone, including Tiger himself.

Since 1997 it has been all about Tiger for young McIlroy. "I was about seven and I can't tell you how much I was playing but I was really keen and playing a lot," McIlroy said. "I watched the previous year when Nick [Faldo] won but it is '97 that I remember watching with my dad."

McIlroy, who at 21 is only eight months older now than Tiger was in '97, can recount every stroke Woods hit as he won his first major championship as a professional. "That's when Tiger grabbed all our imaginations and won it by 12 and broke so many records. It was a huge moment for the game of golf."

Day said when asked for his first Masters memories: "Watching Tiger in '97 and he just blew the field away. That's when I wanted to play well and one day play the Masters, play at Augusta National."

"When Tiger came along, he pretty much changed the game," Day added. "Everyone turned into athletes. We are not fat slobs anymore. He has pretty much changed the game for the good. It just shows how good the coaching is, the science behind the game, and how confident some of these young guys are coming up now."

Rickie Fowler, the American who played with McIlroy and Day on the first two days, is 22 and already a Ryder Cup player. His Masters memories: "The highlights of '86 with Mr Nicklaus would be one but the other, probably the one I've watched the most, is Tiger winning in '97."

Hideki Matsuyama, the Asian Amateur champion, who was the only amateur to make the cut this week, is 19 and also nominated the 1997 Masters as his favourite. Matsuyama is the same age as compatriot Ryo Ishikawa, who has been a prolific winner in Japan for three years.

Charl Schwartzel is 26 so not only missed Player's first win but his third, in 1978, by six years. It was Player who once corrected an American television interviewer who referred to "foreigners" playing in the Masters by saying: "I don't believe in the word 'foreigners' because I think we are all just golfers playing around the world."

For those in America, the world rankings unequivocally reveal the truth of golfers being from all round the world, not just the United States. For the first time ever, no American was in the top-seven of the leaderboard after three rounds of the Masters. For the first time ever, no American finished in the top three.

"There are a bunch of really good players coming through," Schwartzel said. "The world is big. America is big, but the world is bigger."

Chubby Chandler, the manager of McIlroy and Schwartzel as well as Lee Westwood and Ernie Els, takes Player's view. "Everybody is worrying where these kids come from," Chandler said. "Golf's in great shape. They're all great kids who respect the game. I think people should focus on that."

When Woods burst onto the scene, he was the only one. The likes of Sergio Garcia and Scott tried to follow but have yet to hit major success despite each having their near-misses. The difference now is that there are so many youngsters queuing up to usurp Tiger. Once one does, others will surely follow. "A win for the ages," was how Jim Nantz famously called home Woods on American television in 1997. Perhaps only now is the full impact being revealed.