At the Mercedes Championship, the first PGA tournament of the year, Tiger Woods let it be known that 1997 was going to be no ordinary year for golf. Entering a sudden-death playoff with 1996 PGA Player of the Year Tom Lehman after a rain shortened 54 holes, the 21-year-old phenom walked up to the 186-yard seventh hole, grabbed his six-iron and dropped the ball a mere eight inches from the cup to capture his first title of the year and the first $216,000 of his record-setting $2,066,833.
But clearly it was Woods' next win that may have vaulted him from the kid with the potential to a legend at 21. Woods took the golfing world by storm, romping to his first major victory in the 61st Masters by carding an 18-under 270, breaking the previous Masters record of 271 set by Jack Nicklaus in 1965 and tied by Ray Floyd 11 years later. Woods took the title by a record 12 shots over runner-up Tom Kite and set or tied no less than nine Masters records in all. He had arrived.
After capturing two more tournaments, Woods suffered a degree of burnout towards the end of the year but not before thrusting his sport into an realm of popularity that had in recent times been dominated by football, baseball and basketball. Along with twenty-somethings Ernie Els and Justin Leonard, he promises to keep it there into the next millennium.
Still, with all of Woods's success in 1997 he could not rally his teammates to victory in the Ryder Cup battle with the Europeans at Valderrama, Spain. In fact, Tiger got tamed by Italian Costantino Rocca in their head-to-head match up on the event's final day of matches as the team from Europe held off a late rally from the United States and won the cup for the second time in a row.
Though sometimes overshadowed by its male counterparts, the LPGA had quite an exciting year of its own. In a competitive year that saw 11 of the first 40 tournaments, including the LPGA Championship reach a playoff round, 27-year-old Sweden native Annika Sorenstam emerged once again as the class of the field.
Sorenstam, who joined the tour in 1993, earned $1,236,789 to become only the second player in LPGA history to break the $1,000,000 barrier. She won six titles en route to her second Rolex Player of the Year award in the last three years.