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Woods' Masters victory voted top sports story of 1997 by APBy Ron Sirak, Associated Press, 12/28/97
Tiger Woods' overwhelming victory in the Masters, which not only broke records but shook social barriers and pushed golf to unprecedented popularity, was voted top sports story of 1997 by members of The Associated Press.
The 12-stroke victory by Woods at Augusta National Golf Club in April won out over the heavyweight title fight in June when Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear. Those two events dominated the voting.
''Cool,'' Woods, 21, said from his Windemere, Fla., home when told his Masters victory had been voted the top story.
Asked if he could guess the runner-up, Woods immediately said: ''Tyson.''
''I was at both,'' Woods said, referring to the fact that he was a spectator at the Tyson-Holyfield fight.
While the ear-biting incident was one of the most shocking events in the history of world championship sports, the Masters apparently won out because it impacted sports and society in so many ways.
Woods won by 12 strokes, a victory margin unsurpassed in a major championship since the 1862 British Open. And the only player in the history of the 363 major professional championships played since 1860 to equal Woods' 18-under-par total was Nick Faldo in the 1990 British Open.
Woods, in his first full year as a professional, also became the youngest Masters champion and the first non-white to win one of the four major golf titles.
The fact that Woods, whose father is black and mother is from Thailand, won so convincingly at Augusta National - until recently an all-white club and a virtual symbol of golf's exclusivity - gave the victory even more impact.
And the racial element took on added significance a week after the Masters when a videotape made the day of Woods' victory showed PGA Tour player Fuzzy Zoeller making racially insensitive remarks about Woods.
As much importance as the Masters had in the sports world, it meant perhaps even more in the Woods family, where father Earl and mother Tida saw the fruition of their dream for their son.
''You want to know the best shot of the year?'' Woods said. ''It was the shot of me hugging my Pop on the 18th green at Augusta.''
The World Series victory by the Florida Marlins and then its fire sale of high-priced players was third in balloting by AP print and broadcast members.
Dean Smith's retirement as North Carolina basketball coach and the victory by the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl rounded out the top five.
The auto accident involving three members of the Detroit Red Wings after a party celebrating their Stanley Cup victory was sixth, followed by the Chicago Bulls winning their fifth NBA championship.
Ken Griffey Jr. and Mark McGwire chasing Roger Maris' home run record finished eighth in the voting, followed by interleague play in baseball and the Marv Albert sex scandal.
Woods' Masters victory was the clear winner, receiving 987 points to 759 for the Tyson-Holyfield fight. The Marlins were a distant third with 585 points.
No golfer ever entered the professional ranks with as much hype as Woods and it seemed virtually impossible that he would live up to his advance billing. What he did at the Masters surpassed even the wildest expectations.
The tournament did not start out like Woods was going to dominate. Clearly nervous and paired with defending champion Faldo, Woods played the first nine holes in a shaky 4-over-par 40.
''We get nervous just like everyone else,'' Woods said. ''It was a slow developing kind of zone,'' he said of the incredible level his play reached that week in April.
Rising to the challenge as he has at every stage of his career, Woods played the next 63 holes in an astounding 22-under par and never once three-putted on the treacherously fast Augusta greens.
''I've always been better on fast greens,'' Woods said.
He also drove the ball masterfully, averaging 323 yards off the tee, despite the fact that he came into the tournament with doubts about controlling his driver.
''I was fearful on my tee shots,'' Woods said. ''I was fighting a hook leading up to it.''
A major reason why Woods putted so well at the Masters was the fact he played his iron shots - the crucial shots at Augusta - with the precision of a 21-year veteran, not a 21-year-old kid.
''I kept the ball below the hole and I missed the greens in the right places,'' he said. ''My distance control was great.''
Asked if he would ever be able to do better than the 18-under par he shot at the 1997 Masters, Woods considered the question carefully, then said:
''If I hit the ball that well and putt that well ...'' his voice trailing off, ''it can be done.''
And as to whether he could ever win the Grand Slam - sweeping the four major professional golf championships in the same year, a feat never accomplished - Woods has said:
''It can be done. You just have to win the right four. Hogan won three of four. You have to be lucky.''
And you have to be good - as good as Tiger Woods was in the 1997 Masters.
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