SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S first feature on Tiger Woods appeared in 1991, just weeks before my third birthday. Staff writer Tim Crothers mused then about a 15-year-old poised to be the youngest PGA Tour competitor of all time; a kid who "was dragging behind him a sawed-off putter instead of a rattle" when he was a baby.
Woods became, to me and I'm sure many of my peers, both a living icon and yet accessible enough to influence the sports we played, the confidence we carried and the clothes we wore. Seeing him once again as a favorite to win the Masters is the ultimate nostalgia hit for a generation of older millennials who are just now realizing that our first sports heroes are retired, restaurant owners, talking heads and professional autograph signers.
His first Masters win in 1997 signaled my own dive into obsession. There was the issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FOR KIDS in '96 that included the perforated Woods trading card we all tried to find in mint condition (someone listed one recently on eBay for $50,000). There were the hours we spent downloading Tiger Woods PGA Tour onto our lagging Dell desktops. There were wonderful parents, mine included, who indulged our newfound desire for golf clubs—replete with a stuffed tiger headcover, of course. They took us to public courses, just like Earl had done with his son, watched us hack the place to dust and consoled us when we were frustrated because Tiger made it look so easy.
After Woods's historic win, Rick Reilly wrote about the young phenom's dominance at Augusta (above, left) and foreshadowed 20 more years of golfers chasing their tails in an effort to catch up. Even back then, at the age of nine, I could grasp the gravity of a sentence like this: "Never before had so many people stayed at the course so long, filling the stands behind the practice range, 1,500 strong, to watch a lone player hit thrilling wedge shots under the darkening Georgia sky."
They will again, in just a few week's time, hoping to catch a glimpse of the magic that made him Tiger.