Tiger Woods: 25 years on from the Vegas victory that propelled him to superstardom

This week’s Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas was the scene of Tiger’s first PGA Tour victory, a tally he has since taken to an astonishing 82.

When Tiger Woods teed it up at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational, the buzz around the then 20-year-old was already enormous.

Tiger had turned pro earlier in the summer, hitting his first shot in the professional ranks - a huge drive down the right side of the fairway - at the Greater Milwaukee Open.

Woods opened 67-69 at the GMO but scoring was low at Brown Deer Park and he had to settle for tied 60th.

That said, Tiger gave a first glimpse of his sense of theatre, draining a hole-in-one during the final round.

His next start came at the Canadian Open where he fared much better, finishing in a tie for 11th.

The improvement continued throughout the rest of September: fifth at the Canadian Open followed by third at the B.C. Open.

Both were low-key events but Tiger was flashing his enormous potential and getting in the mix.

Bookies still not convinced

Despite the hype and strong results, some bookies were still willing to offer Woods at 25/1 to win the Las Vegas Invitational.

Other more established figures dominated the front of the betting and Tiger's opponents that week included World No.6 Fred Couples, World No.9 Phil Mickelson, World No. 11 Davis Love and other big names of the day such as Payne Stewart and Jim Furyk.

At 20, Woods was legally too young to hit the Vegas casinos but perhaps that just made his focus greater for what would be a longer week than normal.

Las Vegas Invitational - a 90-hole marathon

The format in October 1996 was very different to the current version which is a standard 72-hole event played over one course, TPC Summerlin.

To succeed on his LVI debut, Woods would have to beat his rivals over five rounds and show his skills across three different courses.

Woods, like Elvis in the 1970s, opened at the Las Vegas Hilton where a 70 left him lingering in a tie for 83rd due to the super-low scoring. That was eight off the pace.

But at TPC Summerlin the following day Tiger charged into contention. He needed just 63 blows and that 9-under lap vaulted him into a tie for 11th.

The Californian kid continued his progress over the next two days despite being troubled by a groin injury and scores of 68-67 took him into a tie for seventh, four back from leader Ronnie Black.

But other big names still threatened to spoil the party for Woods. Love was in second place after rounds of 66-67-68-67 and Couples lurked a further stroke back in third alongside Fred Funk.

Mark Calcavecchia was also in the hunt after laps of 65 and 64 in rounds three and four.

The final round

The good news for Tiger was that the closing round took place at TPC Summerlin where he'd blitzed a 63 in round two.

With leader Black misfiring and falling away to a 71, the pack smelt blood and Woods was straight into his stride with a birdie at the very first hole.

After an eagle at the par-5 third, Tiger added birdies at 9, 11, 13 and 14 to move into a tie for the lead.

A final par breaker at 16 took Woods to 27-under but that score was tied by a fast-finishing Love. The two Americans were heading for a play-off.

The Play-off

Showing no fear and ready to fulfil his destiny, Woods got the play-off underway at the 18th, finding the fairway and then hoisting his approach to around 20 feet.

He couldn't knock in the birdie putt but Love's second had found sand, leaving the then 10-time PGA Tour winner a six-footer for par.

With Tiger watching on, Love's par putt missed right. Woods was a PGA Tour winner on just his fifth start!

Looking to the future

Tiger secured a second PGA Tour win just a fortnight later after landing the Walt Disney World Classic in Florida.

That was enough to get him into the 30-man field for the following week's Tour Championship, played that year at Southern Hills.

It didn't go too well, Woods finishing tied 21st and being distracted by an illness to his father.

At the end of his final press conference, one journalist decided to look into the future given that Southern Hills would also be staging the US Open in five years' time.

He asked: "Tiger, I know it's a way away, back here in five years do you think you'll be favourite at the US Open in 2001?"

Woods batted the question away. "Who knows, I probably can't hit a shot by then or I might be playing well, I really don't know."

Tiger did indeed start favourite at Southern Hills in 2001 although he would cut a disappointed figure that week after finishing tied 12th.

But he went into the event as the holder of all four Majors after completing the Tiger Slam (2000 US Open, 2000 Open Championship, 2000 PGA Championship and 2001 Masters) just two months earlier.

Fair to say that things had gone rather well since he kick-started it all with that victory in Vegas five years earlier.

READ MORE: Nine players seeking a first win on the PGA Tour: Can they hit the big time in Las Vegas?

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