Until someone signs for a 269 or better to win the Masters Tournament, there’s a numerical bond that will connect defending champion Jordan Spieth to four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods: 18-under. Woods shot the lowest score in Masters history with a 270 in 1997. Eighteen years later (there’s that number again), Spieth matched it in winning the 2015 Masters.

    When Woods won his first Masters, the prevailing theme was that the Jack Nicklaus torch had finally been passed to a worthy successor. It wasn’t that Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Nick Price or Davis Love III weren’t good players. Norman, Couples and Price are in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Love soon will be. But Woods went on to win 13 more majors and 75 more tournaments. He was the next Nicklaus and it wasn’t close. υ

When Spieth won last year, prophecies were that it would prove to be another penultimate moment, when the Woods era ended and the Spieth era began. Of course Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler have no intentions of sitting back and letting Spieth take over. Just like Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Ernie Els and Colin Montgomerie had no intentions of letting Woods seize the era.

    But it happened. Spieth could have done Woods one better that cloudy afternoon at Augusta National (nearly the same weather as during Woods’s final round in 1997) had he not bogeyed the 72nd hole. But it didn’t matter since he won by four shots over Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson.

Spieth may yet grab the scoring record all for himself, given the fact that he, like Woods, was 21 years old when he had the green jacket slipped over his shoulders for the first time by 2014 champion Bubba Watson. Spieth has nothing but time on his side, while Woods, at 40, could well be finished contending at Augusta National.

    Then again, 18-under could be a number that outlasts Spieth. Woods came no closer than 16-under in his next four Masters victories.

    There are some notable similarities and differences between Spieth’s Masters championship and Woods’s first. Whatever can be compared or contrasted still adds up to 18-under, but the paths during their respective four days’ march into history are uniquely their own. υ

First the Parallels

Both players devastated the par-5 holes at Augusta National, a formula most Masters winners have followed. Woods played the par-5s 13-under and Spieth did it at 12-under. Woods made the most hay on the second nine par-5s at Nos. 13 and 15, chopping them up at 8-under with two eagles and four birdies.

    Spieth, not the bomber off the tee Woods was then, settled for a steady stream of birdies on the par-5 holes, 13 in all. They were both cautious with the par-4 holes, Woods playing them at 5-under and Spieth at 3-under. But then again, that was always Bobby Jones’s vision for the course, where players could attack the par-5s and play smart on the par-4s.

    Both players had one rough patch that they overcame to show that true champions can quickly adjust and turn back adversity. Woods shot 4-over-par 40 on the first nine in the first round, leading to speculation at the time that he just might be over his head—despite having won three times already.

    Woods turned to the second nine, played the first six holes at 5-under and never looked back.

    Spieth’s moment of truth was late in the third round. After making birdie at four of five holes, he double-bogeyed the par-4 17th when he needed two chips and two putts to get down from 39 yards—completely uncharacteristic for a player who had a stellar short game and was an even better putter.

    He then sprayed the ball twice at No. 18 and found himself facing a delicate chip from off a bank to the right of the green, to a tight hole placement. Another double-bogey seemed imminent and bogey wasn’t looking very good. In the clubhouse was Justin Rose at 12-under, no doubt relishing the possibility of getting Spieth in his sights for the final round. But Spieth flopped the third shot, with the ball rolling eight feet past the hole. He made that putt for a par to preserve his four-shot bulge.

    Spieth and Woods, for all their skills hitting full shots, won their Masters titles on the deceptive greens. Woods didn’t have a three-putt all week and Spieth didn’t have one until he already had a healthy lead. In the first two rounds, in which he rolled to a five-shot margin, Spieth avoided any three-putts. υ

Now the Differences

Spieth faced a much longer course than Woods, Augusta National played 7,435 yards in 2015, while Woods toured a layout that measured 6,925 yards in 1997. Spieth had a second cut to deal with, while Woods did not.

    Of course Spieth had only Woods to thank for that—and Mickelson and the rest of the big bombers on the Tour who prompted the club to add more than 500 yards in length.

    The difference is that Spieth is playing with 460cc drivers while Woods, though longer than anyone in 1997, was wielding a big bat almost 50 percent smaller. Straighter golf balls and innovations in fairway metals and utility clubs are also a benefit Spieth has that Woods did not in 1997.

    While Spieth certainly didn’t squeak by to win his green jacket, Woods turned in one of the most dominant performances in golf history. After trailing by three entering the second round, he fired a 66 for a three-stroke lead, lowered that still to a 65 for a nine-shot lead and set the victory margin record of 12 shots with a closing 69.

    Then there’s the issue of the competition, which is either a similarity or a
difference, depending on 19th hole caucuses: The top-10 in the 2015 Masters included three-time Augusta champion Phil Mickelson, 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, frequent major contender Dustin Johnson and 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson.
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    Among the rest of the top-25 were Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Woods, past Masters champions Angel Cabrera and Mark O’Meara, four-time major champion Ernie Els, 2013 FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson and two other major champions, Louis Oosthuizen and Keegan Bradley.

    Three of the aforementioned players, Mickelson, Els and O’Meara, are in the Hall of Fame. As will Woods.

    Four players in the top-10 behind Woods in 1997 are in the Hall of Fame: Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Couples and Bernhard Langer. Hall of Famers among the top-25 were Jose Maria Olazabal, Els, Vijay Singh and Price. Also among the top-25 that week were Jeff Sluman, Steve Elkington, Tom Lehman and Mark Calcavecchia, all major champions at the time.

    If you’re scoring at home, Woods finished at the head of a top-25 that contained eight current or future Hall of Fame members and 11 players who had already won majors. Spieth overcame a top-25 that had three Hall of Famers and 10 who had won majors.

    Since the top-25 Spieth beat included players who are either locks or potential Hall of Fame candidates such as Woods, Love, McIlroy, Zach Johnson and Cabrera, let the debate rage.

    Regardless of who Woods and Spieth beat, how they did it, what tools they did it with and how different the course was 18 years apart, they occupy the same spot in golf history—a Masters champion. 

Augusta National hole-by-hole, and how Jordan Spieth (2015)  and  Tigers Woods (1997)  played them during their  record  72-hole Rounds. 

1Tea OliveScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_38_26 PM

Par 4 • 455 yards

Spieth 1-under, Woods 1-over

Like most players, the two tread lightly on the opening hole. Spieth’s final-round birdie signaled to the field that he wasn’t backing up.

 


 

2 Pink DogwoodScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_38_37 PM

Par 5 • 575 yards

Spieth 3-under, Woods 3-under 

Spieth birdied the hole the first three rounds and Woods birdied it the last three. It was the start of their domination of the par-5 holes.

 


 

3 Flowering PeachScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_40_00 PM

Par 4 • 350 yards

Spieth 1-under, Woods 1-over

Surprisingly, Spieth made the only birdie between the two at a short hole that hasn’t changed much between the two eras. Both were too smart to attack the sucker pins.

 


 

4 Flowering Crab AppleScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_40_09 PM

Par 3 • 240 yards

Spieth even, Woods 1-over

This was another tough hole that neither player saw the need to challenge—which was a pretty easy decision since they were playing with huge leads from the second round forward.

 


 

5MagnoliaScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_40_18 PM

Par 4 • 455 yards

Spieth even, Woods 1-under

Both of them bogeyed the fifth during the final round, but it was the only hole on the first nine, other than par-5s, that Woods birdied more than once. He went 3-3 on the hole in the second and third rounds.

 


 

6JuniperScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_40_25 PM

Par 3 • 180 yards

Spieth 1-under, Woods even

Four pars in a row for Woods and three pars and one birdie for Spieth was good enough for them.

 


 

7PampasScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_40_40 PM

Par 4 • 450 yards

Spieth 2-over, Woods even

One of only two holes that Spieth played over-par for the tournament. He and Woods bogeyed the hole on Sunday.

 


 

8Yellow JasmineScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_40_47 PM

Par 5 • 570 yards

Spieth 3-under, Woods 2-under

Woods recovered from his only bogey of the tournament on a par-5 hole during the first round to make three birdies in a row for the rest of the week. Spieth also made short work of the uphill hole with a blind second shot.


9Carolina CherryScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_40_56 PM

Par 4 • 460 yards

Spieth 2-under, Woods 1-over

Spieth loves the draw required of the downhill tee shot and birdies in the first and third rounds gave him momentum going to the second nine. Woods made a bogey in the  first round to end his disastrous first-nine 40, but we all know what happened after that.


10CamelliaScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_41_04 PM

Par 4 • 495 yards

Spieth 3-under, Woods 1-under

If there was a difference for Spieth, other than his play on the par-5 holes, it was his three-birdie, one-par performance on the long, downhill hole that has dashed more than a few Masters dreams.


11White DogwoodScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_41_25 PM

Par 4 • 505 yards

Spieth even, Woods 2-under

Spieth owned No. 10 and Woods owned the second long, downhill par-4 hole in a row, at least on the weekend when he made two birdies. Woods hit wedge into the hole on Sunday to set up a 20-foot birdie putt.


12Golden BellScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_41_29 PM

Par 3 • 155 yards

Spieth 1-under, Woods 1-under
Spieth’s bogey in the final round gave contenders Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson a slight window, but it didn’t last long. Woods had a birdie in the first round that was huge in his second-nine comeback.

 


 

13AzaleaScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_41_37 PM

Par 5 • 510 yards

Spieth 4-under, Woods4-under

Spieth made four birdies in a row while Woods’s eagle in the second round highlighted his surge to the top of the leaderboard.


14Chinese FirScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_41_41 PM

Par 4 • 440 yards

Spieth even, Woods 2-under

Woods’s birdie in the second round came in the middle of a 4-under stretch on three holes and another in the final round was the last of his 21 birdies for the week.


15FirethornScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_41_49 PM

Par 5 • 530 yards

Spieth 2-under, Woods 4-under

There was only one par between the two on the final par-5 on the course, made by Woods in the final round. Had Spieth not bogeyed in the first round, he would have had a better shot at breaking the 18-hole scoring record, but his birdie in the final round made him the first player to ever stand at 19-under during a Masters. Woods’s eagle in the first round came after he hit a pitching wedge into the green, almost unheard of before then.


16RedbudScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_41_54 PM

Par 3 • 170 yards

Spieth 1-under, Woods even

Woods had four pars and Spieth three pars and a birdie. The final example of how the two players wisely decided not to test the par-3 holes.


17NandinaScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_42_01 PM

Par 4 • 440 yards

Spieth 2-under, Woods 1-under

he only real drama on the hole was Spieth’s double-bogey on Saturday, the only time either of the players made a double during their first Masters titles. A point to note is that  Woods had to play the hole with the Eisenhower Tree still guarding the left side of the fairway.


18HollyScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5_42_06 PM

Par 4 • 465 yards

Spieth even, Woods 1-under

Spieth’s miss of a 5-foot putt on Sunday cost him the outright scoring record. More important to the outcome of his week was the near-impossible up-and-down for par from the right side of the green in the third round. Woods made a par putt only slightly shorter than Spieth’s on Sunday to assure him of breaking Raymond Floyd’s record of 17-under.

This article appears in the Masters 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.