Tiger Woods has been the poster child of golf for more than a decade -- which is remarkable considering he's only in his early 30s.
The golf world has not seen anything like Woods since Jack Nicklaus came onto the scene nearly five decades ago.
Like Nicklaus, Woods compiled an outstanding amateur record, and instant success was expected of him when he hit the PGA Tour.
Also like Nicklaus, Tiger delivered, winning a major championship in his first year as a professional. And like the young Nicklaus, Woods hit the ball so much farther than other pros that he seemed to be playing a different game.
In fact, Woods has made an even bigger impact on the game than Nicklaus did. For one thing, Woods is part African American (also part Asian and a small part American Indian), which is significant because there were no black players on the Tour full-time when he arrived. He also plays an exciting, attacking style and has a charismatic smile.
If any golfer were ever destined for greatness from an early age, it was Woods. Tiger, who grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs and learned to swing the club by mimicking his father, Earl, made his first trip to the driving range at just 18 months. At age two, he won a 10-and-under tournament and appeared on the Mike Douglas Show. At eight, he broke 80 for the first time. At 12, he broke 70. At 14, he started winning national junior tournaments for players 17 and under.
Woods' greatest amateur accomplishments came in USGA events. Before him, no player had won the U.S. Junior Amateur more than once. Woods won it three times in a row, beginning at age 15 (the youngest ever to win the title). He followed up on that by becoming the youngest-ever U.S. Amateur champion, at 18. When he won the U.S. Amateur again at 19 and 20, he became the first player ever to win that event three straight times.
Many of those wins came in dramatic fashion. In his third U.S. Junior victory, Woods was two down with two holes to play. He birdied them both, and then won on the first extra hole of sudden death.
He captured his first U.S. Amateur by coming back from six down after 13 holes of the 36-hole final to take a 2-up victory over Trip Kuehne. He captured his third by charging from five down after 18 to win on the 38th hole against Steve Scott.
By then, Woods had completed two years at Stanford University, winning one NCAA Championship, and speculation in the golf world centered on how soon he would turn pro. Woods took that step immediately following his third U.S. Amateur victory, encouraged by many top pros telling him he was ready for the Tour and sensing that college and amateur golf would no longer hold enough interest for him.
Nike immediately gave him a $40 million endorsement contract, and Titleist tossed another $20 million his way. At the time, many wondered if Woods deserved it, since he hadn't yet proved himself on the Tour. He quickly demonstrated that he was worth every penny-and more.
He was a phenomenon in every sense of the word. Even his fellow pros were in awe of his distance off the tee, accomplished with the efficiency of his swing rather than brute strength (he's 6'2'', 155 pounds). And he brought the spectators flooding through the gates, particularly youngsters who wouldn't have otherwise been interested in golf.
Tigermania continued through 1999. By the end of the season, Woods had accumulated eight victories, including wins in the final four events. Woods rang in the new year with his fifth win in a row. It turned out to be his best season to date, as he won three consecutive majors, nine total PGA Tour events, and set or tied 27 Tour records.
The end of 2000 didn't halt Tiger's winning ways. His victory in the Masters at the beginning of 2001 made him the title-holder of all four major championship events at one time: the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship, The British Open, and the Masters. And in 2002, his first-place finish in the Masters put him alongside Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only men to have won back-to-back Masters events.
In 2003 and 2004, Woods dropped to a more mortal level as he reworked his swing. Although Woods didn't win a major event during those two years, he still won six events while dealing with brutal media criticism -- rumors ran rampant regarding the alleged tension between Tiger and his swing coach, Butch Harmon.
But while speculation flew as to whether Tiger would ever return to the top, the man himself was already gearing up for yet another dominant season. Woods kicked off 2005 by winning his first major event since 2002, taking first place at the Masters and wowing the crowd with a mind-boggling chip in on No. 16 at Augusta: The ball dripped down the green, nearly in slow motion, only to hang on the cusp of the hole for what seemed like an eternity before clinking the bottom of the cup.
Woods was back.
Woods' 12-under-par victory over Colin Montgomerie at that Masters put him to the top of the Official World Golf Rankings once again. Soon after, Woods captured his 10th major title, winning the British Open by a margin of five strokes. By the end of 2005, Woods had notched first-place finishes in six official money events and had topped the money list for the sixth time in his career.
While Woods entered the 2006 season at the top of his game, his personal life took a devastating downturn. His father, Earl Woods, died on May 3 of that year after a long bout with prostate cancer, and Woods took a leave of absence for nine weeks.
Still, it didn't take Woods long to rebound. Woods took the 2006 British Open by shooting 18-under par, just one shot short of his record of 19-under set in 2002. Emotions ran high as Woods dedicated the win to his father.
In 2007, just 10 years after his first major win, Tiger Woods stood on top of not only his game but the entire golf world. The start of year brought news of Tiger's extended domination over the world of golf: Woods announced he would play host to his own tournament that coming July. The Maryland-based tournament -- which is actually hosted by Tiger's namesake foundation -- was dubbed the AT&T National and replaced the defunct International previously held just outside of Denver. Although the AT&T National did not have Tiger's name officially tacked on to it, the event gained fame as "Tiger's Tournament."
July of 2007 meant big changes for Tiger: His tournament, the AT&T National, was a smashing success; he took second place at the U.S. Open on July 17; and just one day after the U.S. Open, he and his wife, Swedish model Elin Nordegren, welcomed their first child, Sam, into the world.
The following month, Tiger announced plans to design his first golf course in the United States: The Cliffs at High Carolina, a private course located in the mountains near Asheville, N.C.
The impact of Tigermania will undoubtedly affect golfers and fans for generations to come. While Michael Jordan is still the most famous athlete on the planet, Jordan might soon be known as the "Tiger Woods of basketball."
For more information about golf, see:
- The Best Golfers of All Time
- How Golf Clubs Work