Tiger Woods can no longer claim to be the only member of his family to have won an Australian Masters golfing crown.
Woods’ 23-year-old niece stepped out of the considerable shadow of her superstar uncle on Sunday to claim the biggest win of her two-year professional career with a two-shot victory at the Australian Ladies Masters on the Gold Coast.
Woods’s round included five birdies and a bogey, including a birdie on the par-5 18th which sparked celebrations.
While Woods won a minor event early in her pro career in the United States, Sunday’s victory was easily her most significant so far.
The American was rock-solid throughout her final round, barely stumbling as she held off the charge by Lee, but choked back tears during her victory speech on the 18th green as she talked about her family’s support.
“This is a huge accomplishment for me,” she said. “European Tour has been great to be able to play this past year. I’ve been able to see all of these great players, play with Solheim Cup members … to be able to come out here and compete with them and come out on top was huge for me.”
Such is the expectation of the Woods name that the United States-based Golf Channel televised the final two hours of the local broadcast live when it became clear she was a chance of claiming the win.
It’s a pressure Woods says she’s learned to live with, but she’s also hopeful her display on the Gold Coast will move the conversation beyond merely her surname.
“I’ve been pro for two years and, for the majority of it, people just think of me as Tiger Woods’ niece so now I have a game of my own and I have a title now, a win, which is exciting,” she said.
“It’s nice now to say to people that I can play and I’m not just a name. Growing up with the last name of Woods, there’s a lot of expectations and pressure and spotlight on you but I always knew that I was able to win. I always knew I’d be able to compete with these ladies so now it’s kind of a weight off my shoulders because now everybody knows not just me.”
Woods’ win not only earned her a $57,000 cheque but also a two-year exemption into Ladies European Tour events.
A victory in next week’s US LPGA-sanctioned Australian Open at the Victoria Golf Club would also earn her exemption into that tour but Woods wasn’t looking beyond her Royal Pines win.
“That’d be huge but I’m just taking it each day as it comes,” Woods said. “I’m going to enjoy today and I leave for Melbourne tomorrow. I definitely feel good about where my game is so I’m looking forward to playing next week.”