I had been watching the development of Tiger Woods with awe:
three consecutive U.S. Junior titles, followed by three
consecutive U.S. Amateur titles. Still, I was not a believer; I
didn't think he was ready for the PGA Tour. I was not a fan. He
was not gracious in victory. He was making the game look too
easy. He'll find out when he turns pro, I said. He turned pro
and won two tournaments right away. Yeah, well, let's see what
the kid does in the majors, I said.
April came and with it the Masters, and after three rounds Woods
had a nine-shot lead. That Saturday night he was the only player
on the practice tee. His swing was modern art: He would reach
all the classic positions, but with more power than anybody
before him. I was a believer. I was not a fan.
I followed him around Augusta National on Sunday. It was hard to
see much because his galleries were so big. By the time Woods
reached the 18th tee, the only remaining question was whether he
would break the Masters scoring record. My friend Bertis and I
wondered if we should get to the clubhouse so we could see the
final, historic shots on TV.
Woods hooked his tee shot, long and left, way off the fairway.
Bertis and I said nothing to each other. We just started
running, as hard as we could, down one hill and up another. We
were among the first people to stand beside his ball. Before
long, there was a horseshoe of spectators, with Woods and his
ball at the center. Woods jumped up and down several times,
looking for his caddie. He said, "Yo, Fluff--where you at?" I
wrote down his words, for posterity.
Bertis and I were front row and 15 feet from Woods when he made
his approach shot to the 18th green. There was the click of club
and ball, some flying grass and Woods's impassive face, still
holding back his emotion. Bertis and I high-fived each other and
raised our fists. I was nine years old again. I felt Woods's
intensity, his devotion, his greatness. I am a believer. I am
also a fan.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN IACONO [Tiger Woods, surrounded by spectators, playing golf]