Fact is even better than fiction in young Woods' storybook saga

April 14, 1997|By John Steadman

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- On the same hallowed ground where golf's sainted heroes of the past gained their own immortality, walked a slender, smiling young man with skin the shade of brown sugar and a swing just as sweet. The coronation of Tiger Woods defies reality, approaches the make-believe of pulp fiction and tests every element of credibility -- yet it's all so authentic.

This is not a grand hoax, like those pranksters of yore who once unearthed the Cardiff Giant. Yes, Tiger Woods, by dint of his deeds, recorded one of the most astonishing achievements in the spacious concept of modern sports.

The scene of triumph was beneath the sprawling magnolias and towering loblolly pines, near the impressive antebellum clubhouse -- a so typical old Southern plantation setting, where a black player had never performed until 1975 in the Masters.

Now comes a champion of exceptional merit who covered himself with a distinction that is a credit to perseverance and diligent pursuit of precise objectives. A minority member attained a major goal.

Yes, dreams do come true. Ambitions can still be realized. Youth knows no limitations. Tiger Woods has touched the stars. No matter his age, 21; lack of practical experience as a professional, eight months; or social circumstance, there is always the chance to succeed, as proven with such emphatic finality and genuine grace by Woods, who accepted the roaring cheers of the crowd by either tipping his cap, raising his hand or offering a smile and a nod.

Nothing surpasses natural ability in any calling and Woods, by his unprecedented accomplishment in the Masters, has proven that, yes, the impossible is always possible, that barriers can be hurdled and ambitions, no matter how seemingly remote, are within grasp.

None of this would have happened without the well-disciplined presence of his father, Earl, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army, who put a golf club in the hands of his child and showed him the way. He's a product of impeccable training by parents who cared so deeply about him, emphasizing his academic standing in school and sensing he had the aptitude to solve the mystery of learning to strike a golf ball -- a test that's mental as well as physical.

It can be said, without fear of contradiction, that he learned his lessons well. "I wanted him as a young boy to find that swinging a golf club was as natural as throwing a ball," explained the elder Woods in what reveals the simplistic clue to how his son became the golfer he is.

Right there is the secret of a swing that has the consistency of pure honey. So look no further to find out why. This is what separated the 21-year-old Woods from the rest of the Masters' field. He toyed with the opposition as if they were mere sparring partners.

His victory was complete. Overwhelming. He beat a group of 85 classic contenders, including the best from 13 foreign lands. The nearest competitor, Tom Kite, in second place, was 12 strokes back, which put him in the next county.

He wiped 'em out, shattering seven Masters' records and preparing a definitive place for himself, this spectacular shooting star, on the worldwide golf stage.

Earl Woods didn't fill his son's head with all kinds of technical verbiage or convoluted theories that might hamper his development. He let Tiger be himself by doing nothing more than letting him practice a smooth, natural swing.

To find Woods entering the Tom Butler Cabin (named to honor a prominent Maryland citizen and a onetime Masters' member), on the Augusta National property, for the awarding of the symbolic green jacket was a historic moment -- especially for a black. It had never happened before, although Lee Elder, Jim Thorpe and Calvin Peete had qualified for earlier Masters presentations.

Elder, now living in Pompano Beach, Fla., and a member of the PGA Senior Tour, pioneered the way in 1975. He put it in perspective by saying, "This is a happy and glorious day for all blacks, not just for me because everyone has hoped and prayed this would happen."

Twenty-two years ago, when Elder made the breakthrough, he admits to being nervous but said he had a great time, even though he missed the cut by five shots. Signifying the Woods domination, he continued on:

"It's magnificent. I'm so proud and so happy to see something of this nature come about. Tiger is the bridge to the future and the past. He's a bridge to the past for me and the bridge to the future for him."

At the final turn, Woods had established a nine-stroke margin. Had it been any other Sunday afternoon match, say at a country club or on a public course, there would have been an adjustment of strokes just to make things interesting on the back nine.

But this is the Masters, where the competition is at the highest level. Still the comments by the trailing players before yesterday's round virtually conceded the outcome. It was going to be Woods all the way.

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