Staggered but unbowed by late bogeys, Tiger Woods outmuscles hard-nosed Chris DiMarco for his fourth Masters title
The cakewalk days are long gone, the double-digit victories a memory as distant as those ridiculous gaps between first and second place. His dominance now comes and goes: seven consecutive birdies here, an all-over-the-ballpark 74 there. And nobody drops three strokes during the first-tee handshake anymore. Not to a guy who had picked up his last major title 34 months ago, a guy whose pursuit of immortality no longer qualifies as a mere formality.
Even in victory last Sunday evening, Tiger Woods looked vulnerable. Back-to-back bogeys on the final two holes of regulation, one of the greatest shots in Masters history nullified by a blast 30 yards right of the 17th fairway, to which swing coach Hank Haney shrieked, "We're going to fix that friggin' driver." His lead down to one on the 18th, Woods' famous door-slamming skills were compromised in uncharacteristic fashion by a push-sliced 8-iron approach, leaving him with a bunker shot you couldn't get close with a large bucket of balls and a month's worth of lessons from Dave Pelz.
Perhaps this green jacket should include an elbow patch on each sleeve. And a reversible bib. "Interesting finish," Tiger called it. "Even though I was throwing up on myself the last couple of holes, I sneaked one out."
Not before losing at least one finger in a mighty battle with the grinding Gator better known as Chris DiMarco, which is to say Woods didn't claim his fourth Masters triumph and ninth major crown a moment too soon. A 15-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole—the same 18th he had bogeyed 20 minutes earlier—earned the greatest player of this generation a two-month pardon from the oversize expectations that have dogged him the better part of three years. As if he needs it, Tiger's third win of the year made him another $1.26 million, which loosely translates into two Buick commercials and one American Express spot.
More importantly, it bought Woods some valuable real estate—a perch exactly halfway up Mount Nicklaus, which stands 18 professional majors high (see page 49) and has proven particularly treacherous since Tiger's win at the 2002 U.S. Open. Asked last Sunday if Jack's 1995 prediction that he would eventually win 10 or 12 Masters provided any incentive for the only long-term goal that matters, Woods suggested such lofty praise makes for better comedy than motivation. "Just wondering what he was smoking," Tiger cracked when reminded of the comment.
It's easy to joke around when you begin Masters Sunday trailing by four strokes with 27 holes to play, wipe out the entire deficit by 9 a.m., build your own four-shot cushion, then spend every penny of it before reminding everybody about your allergy to losing. Without question, Woods played some of the best golf of his career in the second and third rounds of this Masters—a dazzling 15 under par in a 30-hole stretch, with many of the birdies coming on putts your Sunday partner could have made.
As brilliant as DiMarco was for the first 21/2 rounds, darkness fell Saturday night with the wrong guy in his rearview mirror. "A bogey and a birdie is two shots," he pointed out after touring the back nine in 41 strokes on an otherwise gorgeous Sunday morning. "I certainly wasn't trying to [be cautious]. I was trying to make birdies and extend [my lead]."
Whatever DiMarco did, it didn't work. He resumed his third round on the 10th tee and promptly rifled his approach into a bush right of the green. Double bogey. One group ahead, meanwhile, Woods picked up right where he had left off, adding four consecutive birdies to the three he had made the previous evening, matching Steve Pate's tournament record, which occurred in 1999 on the same seven-hole stretch (Nos. 7 through 13). When Woods safely reached the 14th green in a swell of a.m. sunlight, he was nine under for the round, scaring every flag and looking a lot like a guy who might turn Augusta National's 18-hole scoring mark (63) into a Sunday morning cartoon.