It's a day of firsts for Woods 21-year-old champ initial black, youngest to capture Masters

The Master Of Augusta

April 14, 1997|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods brought new meaning to Amen Corner over the four rounds of the 61st Masters and gave Augusta National Golf Club something it never had until last night: its first black champion.

It was over those three holes on the course's storied back nine that Woods, 21, took control of his game on Thursday, took control of the tournament on Saturday and continued to take his prolonged victory march yesterday.

Woods, who won his first tournament playing with 10-year-olds at age 4, also became the youngest champion in Masters history and the first black player to win one of golf's four Grand Slam events.

His four-round total of 18-under-par 270 broke the tournament record, held previously by Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd, by one shot. His 12-shot margin of victory was the largest in a major championship this century, one short of tying a record set in the 1862 British Open.

Asked the significance of being the first black champion, Woods mentioned two pro golf pioneers.

"I think that's why this victory is even more special," Woods said. "Lee Elder came down when I was chipping. That meant a lot to me. Because of what he did, I was able to play here. Because of Charlie [Sifford], I was able to play on the PGA Tour. I live my dreams because of those guys."

Those dreams were played out over Amen Corner -- holes 11 through 13, the site of many past Masters disasters -- that Woods fulfilled the hopes, dreams and prayers of generations of black golfers who never had the chance to play in the Masters, and even some who did.

"I thought it would happen someday, but I didn't think it would happen this soon," said Elder, the first black player invited to the Masters.

Elder, who played in six Masters, beginning in 1975, flew from his home in Pompano Beach, Fla., and drove from Atlanta to be here for Woods' victory.

He even got a speeding ticket.

"I told the officer that I was going to see Tiger Woods win the Masters, but he gave me a ticket anyway," said Elder. "I guess he wasn't a golf fan."

There were thousands of fans following Woods around the course yesterday, just as they have all week. There were millions more watching on television.

Though the increased number of black fans here to watch Woods was certainly noticeable, the percentage was still small. Clois Herndon, a retired teacher who has lived in Augusta for 41 years, would like to see that change.

A couple of years ago, Herndon had petitioned Augusta National to open up the list to perhaps the toughest ticket in sports, and not just keep tickets in the hands of those who often will them from one generation to another.

"They didn't answer me; they answered my lawyer," said Herndon. "Why don't they open it up to those who want to follow Tiger?"

They were following Woods yesterday at the Mount Zion Negro Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in nearby Waynesboro, Ga., a 129-year-old church with 100 members. In his morning service, the Rev. Larry Fryer said a prayer for Woods.

"We hope that God will guide this young man's gift, and if it is ordained for him to become part of history and be a world champion in golf, then God would grant it," Fryer told his congregation.

Woods transcends the racial divisions of what is considered one the world's most elitist sports. He is to golf -- and to athletic shoe and clothing manufacturer Nike -- what Michael Jordan is to basketball. Woods didn't gloat about his history-making, record-setting victory, but Phil Knight did.

"One analyst, if you remember, said we overpaid for Tiger Woods," said Knight, Nike chief executive, who last summer shelled out some $40 million for an endorsement deal as soon as Woods became the first player to win three straight U.S. Amateur titles. "I wonder what they are thinking now."

The impact that Woods has had since winning two of his first seven PGA Tour events last fall, and then adding another earlier this year, was merely a prelude to what might happen now.

Tim Sanders, head pro at Baltimore's Forest Park Golf Course, said yesterday morning that he has already felt the influence Woods could have on his own generation. Sanders, 39, said lessons are up 50 percent, and 82 children have signed up for his minority youth golf program, up from 56 last year.

"He's really revolutionizing the sport," said Sanders, one of the few black head pros in Maryland. "The kids are taking more lessons because of Tiger, and winning the Masters will only increase the number."

Elder was asked if Woods would have been as widely accepted had he came along when Elder did and challenged Jack Nicklaus.

"I don't think they would have accepted a black champion back then," said Elder, 62, who plays the PGA Senior Tour. "In 1975, you probably would have needed an armed guard around him to walk him to the first tee."

Maybe Woods' victory won't have immediate impact on Augusta National, which didn't invite a black to join until 1991. But Elder said he was looking forward to Woods' becoming an honorary member with the victory.

"This way," Elder said, "he can invite me to play a round here with him."

Pub Date: 4/14/97

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