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The Master of Suspense

Woods Beats DiMarco In Playoff to Cap Wild Day

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 11, 2005; Page D01

AUGUSTA, Ga., April 10 -- Chris DiMarco knew from experience playing with and against Tiger Woods to "expect the unexpected" at any time. That's precisely how Woods soared to his fourth Masters championship Sunday at Augusta National, with a chip-shot birdie on the 16th hole that will be remembered as one of the defining moments of this year's event, along with his 15-foot birdie putt on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

"Unfortunately, " DiMarco added, "it's not unexpected when he's doing it."

"This was . . . a lot of work because I was playing with one heck of a competitor," said Tiger Woods, No. 1 again in the world rankings. (Kevin Lamarque -- Reuters)

Woods's third victory of the 2005 season also ended a drought of 10 straight majors without a victory dating from the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. His triumph Sunday after shooting a 71 in the final round -- DiMarco posted a 68 -- also elevated him back to No. 1 in the world rankings. In each of his nine major victories, he has always held the lead or been tied entering the final round, and Woods played brilliantly Sunday morning to give himself that 54-hole advantage.

On one of the longest final days in Masters history, Woods came out to the course shortly after 8 a.m. to finish off the last nine holes of his third round. He birdied the first four, erased DiMarco's four-shot lead in a breathtaking 45-minute span, then took his own three-shot lead into the final 18 holes. DiMarco, playing right behind Woods, posted a 41 on the back side in the morning, and seemed totally demoralized.

Most assumed that after such a display, which included 16 birdies in a stretch of 30 holes Saturday and Sunday, that Woods would simply run away and hide from the field after his third-round 65, tying the lowest round of the week. DiMarco had other ideas.

After that 41, by far his worst stretch of a very tough rain-delayed week, DiMarco said: "I felt like it was time for me to do something. It wasn't the time for me to go out and shoot 72 and do whatever in the last round. It was time for me to go out and have a chance to win the tournament, be aggressive and do something. I went out and shot 68 around here on a Sunday, which is a very good round, and 12 under is usually good enough to win. I was just playing against Tiger Woods."

And then, some more of the magic that seems to reside on the back nine here came to the fore on Sunday one more time. Woods, who began with two birdies on his first two holes in the afternoon for an early four-shot lead, maintained a three-shot lead through the first nine holes and held a two-shot advantage after the 16th following one of the more astounding shots of his storied career.

A few minutes earlier on No. 16, South African Trevor Immelman had made a hole-in-one on the 170-yard hole, using the sloped bowl around the green to funnel a shot back to the flag. Woods, with his ball up against three-inch-deep grass behind the green, used the same slope for exactly the same result.

"All of a sudden, it looked pretty good," Woods said, "and all of a sudden it looked like really good, and it looked like how could it not go in, and how did it not go in, and all of a sudden it went in.

"So, it was pretty sweet."

But the sour soon followed when Woods bogeyed his final two holes in regulation, with a dreadful second shot into a greenside bunker on the 18th hole, followed by a loud profanity.

DiMarco's second shot spun off the green and back down the fairway, about 20 yards from the flag. His third-shot chip very nearly jumped in the hole, grazing the right side of the cup before coming to rest four feet away. Woods, meantime, blasted out of the bunker to within 12 feet. He missed the par putt, and when DiMarco made his four-footer to save par, the two men had tied after 72 holes at 12-under 276.

No one else was even close. Defending champion Phil Mickelson never mounted any sort of a charge, and his four-putt double bogey at the 16th pushed him into 10th place with a 74 -- 285. Vijay Singh, No. 1 in the world rankings entering the tournament, also struggled and had a 72 -- 284, good for a tie for fifth. Retief Goosen rallied with the best final round, a 67 -- 283 that tied him for third place with Englishman Luke Donald, playing in his first Masters.

On the playoff hole, both men hit fine drives, but DiMarco once again almost inexplicably came up short on his 6-iron approach. He watched in some horror as once again, his ball hit the putting surface and rolled back down the fairway.

"The adrenaline was going," DiMarco said. "I didn't want to flush something and end up on the top tier, so I was trying to get the flight right in the middle of the hill, jump up the slope and roll back a little and give me maybe 15 or 20 feet. They both came up two or three yards short, max."

Now it was Woods's turn, and he hit an 8-iron that flew over the flag and stopped 15 feet from the pin. He described the shot later as being "flushed. That golf shot was cool. For that thing to go up there just the way it did, and I made a nice little putt there, too."

DiMarco had been in the final group last year and watched Mickelson win his first major championship here, finishing tied for sixth himself. He also had been in a three-man playoff in the last major before this week, at the 2004 PGA Championship, won by Singh at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

Despite the back-to-back losses, he insisted Sunday he would come back and contend again.

"I would let it hurt if I gave it away," he said. "But I didn't. I really didn't. I played him as hard as I could down the stretch . . . putting it on him really. I put a good number (34) on the back nine, so I feel good. It was a good show for everybody, I think."

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