A Master Reappears At Augusta

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods reacts after sinking the Masters-winning putt on the first sudden-death playoff hole Sunday (Dave Martin - AP)
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 11, 2005

AUGUSTA, Ga., April 10 -- With a final 15-foot birdie putt in the waning daylight Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club, Tiger Woods ended his 2 1/2 -year drought in the major championships of golf by winning the 69th Masters on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff against Chris DiMarco.

Woods's fourth Masters title and his ninth major victory ended what had become a burdensome run of 10 straight major events without a victory and answered the skeptics who questioned whether the 29-year-old still had a chance to catch the record of 18 career majors set by his boyhood idol, Jack Nicklaus.

Woods tearfully dedicated Sunday's victory to his father, Earl, who has a history of heart problems and has been in poor health over the past year and could not make it to the golf course, but was in town for the event.

"This one is for my dad," he said. "I can't wait to get home to see him and give him a big bear hug."

Woods last won a major on Father's Day in June 2002, the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black on Long Island, N.Y. Since then, he had made significant changes in his life: taking on a new coach, introducing subtle but significant changes to his swing last year, and getting married on Oct. 5, 2004. Each of these changes was offered by critics as potential answers to what had become one of the game's most-asked questions: What's wrong with Tiger?

After failing to win a stroke-play tournament during the 2004 season, Woods was supplanted atop the World Golf Rankings by Vijay Singh. Some wondered whether he still had the all-consuming commitment to excellence that had marked his run of seven victories in 11 major championships, one of the greatest runs in the game's history.

As speculation as to what had befallen the game's best-known player mounted last year, Woods continued to insist he was "really close, really close" to regaining the form that had made him the most feared golfer since Nicklaus began dominating the game in the 1960s and '70s. He said it again several times this year and produced some evidence by winning a dramatic duel against Phil Mickelson last month at Doral in Miami.

But in his last two tournaments, he wasn't able to break 70 in any of his eight rounds, finishing tied for 53rd two weeks ago at the rain-delayed Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, Fla., one of the worst finishes of his career. That led to more speculation that Woods would not be in peak form here this week, and when he shot 2-over 74 in the rain-delayed first round Thursday and Friday, some noted that he had never won any of his 42 PGA Tour titles when he shot an over-par score in his first round.

"More than anything, it's validation of all the hard work I've put into it," Woods said. New swing coach "Hank Haney and I have put some serious hours into this. I read some of the articles over the past year of him getting ripped and I'm getting ripped for all the changes I'm making. To play as beautifully as I did this entire week is pretty cool."

Woods and DiMarco each had to play 28 holes starting at 8:05 a.m., beginning the day by completing Saturday's third round that was halted by darkness.

Woods opened with a run of four straight birdies that, combined with the three in a row he made to close Saturday's play, tied the tournament record of seven straight and helped him overcome a four-shot deficit within 22 minutes. He led DiMarco by three entering the final round.

He needed every one of them.

After his remarkable chip from behind the 16th green funneled down a slight hill, hung on the lip of the hole for more than a second before dropping to give him a two-stroke lead, Woods made two inexplicable bogeys on the 17th and 18th holes, forcing the playoff.

With both players on the 18th hole for the third time this day, DiMarco's second shot came up short of the green, and he hit a magnificent chip to within a foot of the cup.

But Woods had reached the green in two shots, the latter an 8-iron from the fairway that left him a 15-foot putt similar to the 18-footer Mickelson made to prevail here last year over Ernie Els.

Woods made that last birdie putt, and the 69th Masters was over, evidence that perhaps Woods's often-mocked "really close" mantra was in fact prophetic.

"Ten majors is not that long a streak," he insisted Sunday. "Some guys go without winning one all their lives."

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