AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods is not one of us and never will be. He lives in a golf country where Jack Nicklaus owns the only other passport. But Woods is different now at 29. After enduring a streak of 10 winless majors, after a nasty split with an old coach, after the pleasant distractions of love and marriage, he has had enough failure on enough occasions to know how much it hurts to lose. And, with his father's declining health, he has lived with the constant possibility of an even greater loss.
Now, even in his greatest hours, such as Sunday evening at Augusta National when he captured his fourth Masters thanks to what may ultimately be regarded as the signature shot of his career, it seems alarmingly plausible that Woods may fail on the final holes or that a challenger can somehow defeat him outright.
Woods's last four holes on this marathon 28-hole day that began at 8 a.m., captured the essence of this tense duality between his golf genius and his emerging adult vulnerability.
On the 16th hole, Woods holed an almost impossible chip, after a 25-foot side-hill break with the ball toppling into the hole after pausing for a second on the edge. "Somehow, an earthquake happened, and it fell in the hole," said Woods. Without that final tremble on the cup's edge, Chris DiMarco, not Woods, would be your new Masters champion.
Next, in the closest he has ever come to a major-title collapse, Woods bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes. Included in the mess were a drive into woods, a flubbed chip and an iron shot sprayed into a sand trap. Human, all too human. If DiMarco's chip shot at the 18th had fallen into the cup instead of lipping out, Woods would have been remembered for squandering a four-shot lead early in the final round.
"My chip on the 18th had every right to go in the hole," said DiMarco, accurately, not bitterly. "If mine had gone in and his had stayed out at the 16th, if those two are turned, it's the other way around."
Actually, if either shot had been reversed, it's the other way around.
Given that reprieve, Woods sank a 15-foot birdie on the first playoff hole to win. So, birdie, bogey, bogey, birdie on his last four holes at the Masters with everything at stake. That is Woods now, both sublime and yet slightly flawed. Perhaps that is why, with this ninth major win in hand, Tiger seems more appealing than ever.
As he accepted his green jacket, Woods showed the roaring throng more of his emotions than he has ever before revealed.
"My father hasn't been doing too well," Woods said. "It's been a tough year for him. He made the trek to Augusta, but he couldn't make it to the course. He's hanging in there. This is for dad."
Then, just as Nicklaus cried Saturday in his farewell to the Masters, Woods also began to leak about the eyes.
"I can't wait to get home," said Tiger, "and give him a big bear hug."
Afterward, Woods added of his father: "That's why this one meant so much. Give him a little more hope, a little more fire to keep on fighting."
And perhaps that helps explain why, on Thursday and Friday when he was 2 over par for 19 holes, Woods seemed close to losing self-control as the demons of the game played one bad-break trick after another on him. A fine shot hit the flag and went in a trap. A putt hung on the lip, but wouldn't fall. A bad putt trickled into Rae's Creek.