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Year in Review: 1997

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Re-rank the list of top sports stories of 1997

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Tiger Woods takes
golf world by storm

Pedro Martinez signs
record deal with Sox

Latrell Sprewell
assaults coach, gets ax

Rick Pitino becomes
Celtics coach, president

Bill Parcells quits after Patriots' banner year

Martina Hingis
rules women's tennis

Florida Marlins win World Series

Women's pro hoop
meets with success

A Patriots surprise:
Super Bowl XXXI berth

Wil Cordero charged
with assaulting wife


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Check out the top news stories of 1997

Wondrous win for Woods

Young master sets mark for the ages

By Michael Madden, Globe Staff, 04/14/97

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Yesterday, at 7:07 p.m., Tiger Woods drained his final putt of the 1997 Masters Golf Tournament, an event he dominated in astonishing fashion, but Lee Elder just could not drain his eyes. Tears kept flowing and flowing.

``I felt this to the deepest part of my heart because this is an historic day,'' said Elder, the first black golfer to play in this tournament, in 1975. He was standing to the side of the 18th green in deepest Dixie, watching a minority golfer win a Masters, watching tens of thousands of fans forming a human pathway and cheering wildly for Woods, as if he were royalty. ``I just couldn't stop the tears.''

As a golfer, Woods, who is 21, finished off one of the greatest feats in the game's history yesterday. In his first try at a major tournament as a professional, he won the most prestigious of them all -- Bobby Jones's Masters -- going away. Only Jack Nicklaus, the dominant professional golfer of the last 40 years, did anything approaching Woods's accomplishment: His first tournament win as a professional was a major -- the US Open in 1962.

In winning, Woods set a Masters scoring record of 270 over 72 holes while winning by the greatest number of shots ever, 12 strokes ahead of Tom Kite.

``It was something I always dreamt about,'' said Woods, still feeling the emotions of winning and accepting the green jacket from last year's champion, Nick Faldo. ``It's something any youngster who has played golf had dreamt about.''

And of his walk up the 18th fairway to the thunderous ovation from the thousands at the green, the championship in hand except for the formalities, Woods displayed the tight focus and the extreme mental intensity that enabled him to do what has wilted so many other men -- and to do it at the youngest age of any golfer in history.

``You want to know what I was thinking?'' said Woods. ``To be honest, I was thinking of what a tough putt I had. I saw everybody cheering and heard everybody clapping, but when I got over the hill and saw the ball, I said, `Gee, I have a tough putt.' ''

Lee Elder and other black golfers of a generation and more ago had battled Jim Crow all their lives and had been kept out of Augusta National for the first 40 Masters. Not until six years ago did the club accept its first black member, not until a decade or so ago were blacks even seen here other than as caddies or members of the litter patrol. ``And then,'' said Elder, ``along came Tiger.''

Yesterday, said Elder, was a ``happy and glorious day for all blacks. Not just for me because everyone has hoped and prayed this day would come. Tiger Woods winning the Masters might have more potential than Jack Robinson breaking into baseball. Now, no one will turn their heads when they see a black walking to the first tee.''

Still wiping away the tears, Elder said he had not felt this happy ``since I qualified for our country in the 1979 Ryder Cup.'' He was so intent on seeing history that he and his wife flew from Ft. Lauderdale to Atlanta yesterday morning, rented a car and dashed the 3-hour drive to Augusta.

``And I got stopped for speeding on I-20 -- doing 85 in a 75 zone -- and I told the trooper, `I'm hurrying to see Tiger Woods win the Masters.' But he had never heard of Woods.''

Elder donned his walking shoes, walked the full 18, saw every Tiger growl, and by the 18th green was overcome by what had been overcome.

``That's because I know how hard I had tried,'' said Elder, ``and I knew how hard Charlie [Sifford] had tried and Pete Brown and Jim Dent and the rest of [the professional black golfers] had tried, and now this young man had done it on his first try.''

Half a continent away, in Humble, Texas, Charlie Sifford was watching every stroke Tiger Woods made, still bitter at Augusta National, still bitter that a quarter of a century ago he was not allowed to play there. At the time, the Masters had an arcane and esoteric scoring system that specified which golfers qualified for the Masters ``and they kept changing that scoring system on me,'' said Sifford.

Sifford twice won professional tour events during the 1960s, but each time learned that was not good enough for Augusta. Still bitter, Sifford vowed, ``I'll never set foot in that place.'' Still, he said, ``I did send a fax to Tiger on Friday. I told him, `Don't listen to others; just play the golf course. You know yourself when to go for the pins and when not to.' ''

Sifford said that when he met Tiger for the first time four years ago, he ``adopted him as if he were my grandson. That's how I feel about Tiger . . . he's my grandson. But now he is a man.''

And for Woods to win the Masters is especially satisfying to Sifford. ``When I was playing, they had people running the Masters who thought it was beneficial for blacks not to play there,'' said Sifford. ``And then they kept changing the rules on me, like how they changed the rules [for qualifying] when I won my first tournamemt and they changed the rules again when I won my second.''

It will be 50 years tomorrow that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, and relatively soon after that other American professional sports followed suit. But golf was far and away the laggard, the players' tour even having the Caucasian Rule (``Only Caucasians of 18 years of age or older can enter . . .'') until as late as November 1963.

But Pete Brown, the first black golfer to win a tour event (the Waco Open in 1964), found no fruits flowing from his victory. ``Even if invited, I'm not sure I would have played there,'' said Brown, ``because they had a lot of attitudes there.''

Brown watched Woods' victory yesterday with pride. ``It was emotional,'' he said yesterday from the pro shop at the Madden Golf Course at Dayton, Ohio, ``but not that emotional -- because I expected Tiger to win.''

Maybe now, Brown said, ``golfers will just be golfers and not black golfers and white golfers.''

Meanwhile, at Augusta National itself, Gary Player stood in the outdoor veranda moments before Woods teed off and gave his version of Augusta history. Even though Elder was the first golfer to play there 22 years ago, even though the Masters commonly invited non-qualifying golfers -- but none of them black -- Player said he felt Clifford Roberts had wanted to break the color barrier here.

``Many detrimental things have been written about Clifford Roberts,'' said Player, who himself has done much to integrate golf in his home country of South Africa, ``but I personally know because Clifford Roberts said to me many times that he wished a black would play in the Masters.''

And not far from Player was Mookie Blaylock, the guard of the Atlanta Hawks ``who did everything I could to see this young man play golf.'' Indeed, Blaylock and his Atlanta Hawks played the Timberwolves in Minneapolis Saturday night ``and we didn't get off the plane in Atlanta until 2:30. Then I had to find a way to get a ticket and I drove more than two hours to get here.''

Why?

``Because this young man can play golf and because this means so much, to win here at Augusta,'' said Blaylock. ``It was something I couldn't miss.''

When Woods teed off, one of the hugest galleries ever seen here crowded near the first tee. Over here, Elder was saying, ``I have tears in my eyes,'' and over there, Swooshman himself, Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike, had dollar signs in his eyes.

Tiger Woods, said Knight, ``is a good investment'' and ``we think we're very happy with our [$40 million] investment in him.'' And when Woods made the turn, still with a comfortable lead, Knight was beside himself, saying to one and all, ``Only nine more holes 'til history . . . only nine more holes 'til history is made.''

Money men are commonly seen in Augusta, but what has not been commonly seen were the hundreds of black spectators at the tournament. ``Just to see him do it,'' said Roy Spencer of Columbia, S.C., ``I had to be here. And then to see him break just about every record his first try. I just feel so proud.''

Woods said he saw Elder on the course and realized what Elder and his generation of black golfers had done for him. So much.

``Lee came down on the chipping green just when I was leaving for the practice tee'' said Woods. ``He wanted to wish me luck; that meant a lot to me. I think that's why this victory is even more special. . . . Lee and the others were the first. I looked up to him, to Charlie, all of them.

``Because of them, I was able to play here. I was able to play on the PGA Tour. I was able to live my dream because of those guys. Lee came down here and that just inspired me, and I knew what I had to do.''


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