Woods repeats as champion, winning Masters for 3rd time

Only 3rd player to have back-to-back victories

April 15, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - The more Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters tournament change every year, the more they stay the same. The more Tiger Woods alters his style and substance in growing from a teen-age phenomenon to a 20-something legend, the more things here stay the same for him.

Certainly the winner of the season's first major golf championship hasn't fluctuated much over the past six years. With a four-round score of 12-under-par 276 and a three-stroke victory over U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa, Woods won the Masters for the third time yesterday.

In becoming only the third player to repeat as champion in the tournament's 66-year history, Woods joined Jack Nicklaus (1965-1966) and Nick Faldo (1989-1990). It was the 31st PGA Tour victory for Woods, who has won half as many Masters as the legendary Nicklaus, whose 18 professional major titles remain the benchmark.

It was the seventh major championship for Woods. Aside from the Masters, Woods has also won two PGA titles, a U.S. Open and a British Open. Woods has won as many majors as legends Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Bobby Jones and Harry Vardon.

"It's pretty neat to have my name mentioned with some of the golfing greats, especially at this tournament," said Woods, 26, whose victories here trail only the record six by Nicklaus and the four by Palmer. "To be able to put my name on the trophy three times, it's pretty cool."

The reaction from some of his peers was reminiscent of what they said two years ago, when Woods became the first player since Ben Hogan to win three straight majors in the same season. Woods became the first player in history to capture four straight when he won last year's Masters.

"We now know what it's like to go against Jack Nicklaus," said Davis Love III, who led after the opening round this year but wound up tied for 14th. "He's like Nicklaus. He's like Palmer. He's playing great golf. We're not putting it to him. ... Something's going on with him that's not going on with us."

Unlike his 12-stroke victory here five years ago, when he set the tournament scoring record at 18-under 270, or last year's two-stroke win over David Duval, which raised debate about whether his achievement of simultaneously holding the four major titles should be considered a Grand Slam, this year's win was neither as historic nor exciting.

"This year, it's different. This year was more of a physical test," said Woods, who shot a 1-under 71 in the final round. "Last year, being a chance to win four major championships in a row, that was a mental test to try and block everything out. This year was just a physical grind."

Tied at the start of the final round with Goosen at 11-under, Woods took the lead when Goosen bogeyed the par-4 first hole. Woods stretched his lead to three strokes with two straight birdies and led by as many as five strokes later on.

Asked whether he was surprised that nobody made a serious challenge, Woods said: "I think everyone thinks everybody [in contention] laid down, but that's not the way it was out there when you're out there playing. It was a lot tighter than people think."

The victory came after the course was lengthened by 285 yards last summer, the most recent of several changes those running the tournament have made since Woods won as a 21-year-old rookie. Because of the heavy rains Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, the course played longer than its 7,270 yards.

"I think playing in soft conditions takes a lot out of you, because the ground is just sucking at your feet all day," said Woods.

The game Woods played in winning here for the third time is much different from that he played in winning for the first, with frightening precision as much as startling power. Shortly after the win in 1997, Woods completely revamped his swing, his shots travel shorter but with much more accuracy.

It was the first of many changes Woods has made since.

After a slump during which Woods won only once in 1998, Woods dumped his caddie, Mike "Fluff" Cowan, in favor of Steve Williams. Woods also changed his trademark bright red shirt on Sunday to a subdued crimson and won the 1999 PGA Championship. In 2000, he switched golf balls, going from Titleist to Nike.

But certain things are a constant, and a comfort, for Woods.

After winning his first major here five years ago, Woods hugged his parents, Earl and Kultida. His parents were there yesterday, as was his girlfriend, Elin Nordegren, a Swedish model whom he met last summer at the British Open, where she was working as a nanny for the family of golfer Jesper Parnevik.

"It means a lot to me when my mom and dad are there to share this with me," he said last night. "You can't do it alone."

As he walked up the 18th fairway, Woods acknowledged the crowd. Though he missed a chance for a final birdie, Woods pumped his fists after he tapped in for par. He hugged Williams on the green and found his parents, who are divorced, and hugged each before going in to sign his scorecard.

Later on, Woods solved the weeklong problem of how the previous year's champion was going to put the coveted green jacket on the current champion, a longtime Masters tradition. Hootie Johnson, the tournament's chairman, did the honors and shared the view of many in the gallery.

"What can I say, Tiger? You're the greatest," Johnson told Woods. "You're going to wear this jacket out putting it on before your career is over."

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