Tiger Woods’ first of 81 PGA Tour victories was at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational, just five weeks after his famous “Hello, world” declaration upon turning pro. He won $297,000, which was slightly above the average winners take on golf’s top level 23 years ago. The Tour’s leading money winner for the season, Tom Lehman, collected $1.78 million across 22 events.
Last season, Woods won $1.62 million just for his victory at the season-ending Tour Championship. In 18 events, he made more than $5.4 million. Lehman’s No. 1 total from 1996 would have ranked 69th in 2018, when 114 golfers made at least $1 million and the only events to pay out less than seven figures to their winner were alternate tournaments run the same week as major world contests.
Inflation plays a role in that, of course. Woods arguably plays a bigger role, his storming of the sport in the late 1990s and early 2000s exploding its popularity and, thus, its marketability.
That, combined with the nature of a comeback story that he has admitted not even he believed possible, made his victory on Sunday at the Masters as celebrated as any we’ve seen in quite some time. Woods first major triumph since the 2008 U.S. Open, and first Masters victory since 2005, drew plaudits from across all corners of the world, but the ones from his peers were among the most prominent.
“A big ‘Well done’ from me to Tiger. I am so happy for him and for the game of golf,” read a text to CBS from Jack Nicklaus, whose 18 career majors and six Masters titles Woods (with 15 and five) sits just behind. “This is just fantastic.”
Nicklaus also spoke to the Golf Channel on Sunday, comparing the 43-year-old Woods’ victory to his own as a 46-year-old in 1986, and making clear he doesn’t think his record is safe.
“I felt for a long time he was going to win again,” Nicklaus said. “And, you know, the next two majors are at Bethpage, where he’s won [2002 U.S. Open], and Pebble Beach, where he’s won [2000 U.S. Open]. So, you know, he’s got me shaking in my boots, guys.”
Other colleagues shared similar thoughts, some of whom were among those standing at the Augusta National clubhouse to greet Woods following his victory.
What a great moment for the game of golf. I’m so impressed by @TigerWoods' incredible performance, and I'm so happy for him to capture another Green Jacket. Truly a special day that will go down in history. Congratulations, Tiger! #rematch 😎
— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) April 14, 2019
It has been a long & uncertain journey of 14 years since your last Green Jacket. A monumental challenge. For most an impossible task. But not for you. Congratulations Tiger. So special for you & your family. So great for the game of golf. Simply unbelievable. My very best. GP pic.twitter.com/Cw1Hzb9UOE
— Gary Player (@garyplayer) April 14, 2019
— Dustin Johnson (@DJohnsonPGA) April 14, 2019
I think I speak for a lot of the golf world when I say… We’re happy for you TW! @TigerWoods what a victory 🙌🏽
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) April 14, 2019
Bryson DeChambeau worked kudos into a celebration of his first career ace, which happened at the 16th hole on Sunday.
Pretty proud to have my first ace happen at @themasters on Sunday. No better place to do it!
— Bryson DeChambeau (@b_dechambeau) April 14, 2019
THIS IS EVERYTHING https://t.co/ZVfAq4xly9
— Michelle Wie (@themichellewie) April 14, 2019
— bubba watson (@bubbawatson) April 14, 2019