Jacket: meaning over looks

Woods' 3rd green coat wears an importance that's invisible to the eye

Golf

April 16, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - He has millions of dollars in the bank and 31 PGA Tour victories on his resume. But it's the seven major championships and three Masters victories that separate Tiger Woods from the rest of the players in his tax bracket.

Yet here's a question that Woods had not been asked until Sunday night, shortly after he won the 66th Masters by three strokes here at Augusta National Golf Club to become only the third player in history to repeat as champion.

"What does a 26-year-old guy do with one of those jackets all year?" Woods was asked.

Woods smiled sheepishly.

"It's in the closet," he said.

"Don't get it out much?" was the follow-up question.

"You're not going to walk around with this thing, are you?" Woods said.

Woods doesn't mind the color green, just not in his wardrobe. And he doesn't mind the inquiries, since they mean he will spend another year as the reigning Masters champion. Woods took a playful jab at a tournament committee that wrote letters to three former older champions this year, telling them they couldn't play.

"Whether I win or lose today, I'm still coming back next year," said Woods. "I don't know, I haven't gotten a letter yet. But if I don't get a letter, I'm coming back."

Turning a bit more serious, Woods said that the security of winning here twice contributed to his comfort level during a final round of 1-under-par 71 that made his four-round total 12-under-par 276.

"That's a big relief, knowing the fact that no matter what happens, I'm still a champion here and I've done it before," said Woods. "You also know what it takes to win here. I've been in the final group twice. I know how to handle my emotions. Being in the final group at Augusta, you just go out and play."

Woods offered a scary thought for those hoping to take the green jacket away from him sometime in the future: He's a better player than he was when he won by a record 12 shots and set the Masters scoring standard of 18-under-par 270 as a 21-year-old rookie in 1997.

"To be honest with you, I'm not hitting the ball any further than I did in 1997," he said. "If anything, I'm hitting it just a touch shorter because I've dialed back my swing, kept it more in play. I have the ability to hit the ball as far as I did in '97, but I don't. I don't swing at it that hard anymore.

"I like to keep the ball in play and maneuver it around and try different shots. [I] play a completely different game than I did in '97. I think the biggest change for me has been the golf ball. The golf ball is so much better in the wind than it was even in '97, and it's going to keep getting better. I haven't taken full advantage of the new technology."

What Woods has taken advantage of is his added physical strength and a mental toughness that was developed as a child prodigy with the help of his father, Earl. In fact, his father said Sunday night that the rest of the game's best players might be losing ground to his son rather than closing the gap.

"Tiger is continuously improving and will get better and better and better," Earl Woods told a small group of reporters outside Eisenhower Cabin. "Whether these guys get better or not is inconsequential. He's like a forest fire coming and you don't have anybody to stop it."

In this case, the fire is burning just as intensely as it did when Woods first came on tour. Those who were merely jealous of his talent and endorsement contracts have grown respectful of a player who someday might be considered the best to have ever played the game.

Woods' seven major championships rank sixth all time, tying him with six others. He trails Tom Watson (eight), Gary Player (nine), Ben Hogan (nine), Walter Hagen (11) and, of course, Jack Nicklaus, whose 18 professional majors was long considered an untouchable record. Woods' three Masters titles rank only behind Arnold Palmer (four) and Nicklaus (six).

Considering how Woods is expected to dominate here for the next decade - or more - reigning U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa might have come up with a solution as to how to reward the runner-up.

"I was asking one of the officials, `Do I get a pair of green pants for finishing second?' " said Goosen, who placed second after starting the final round tied with Woods for the lead.

Said Woods in jest: "If he wants to wear green pants, I'll stick with a green coat."

In the closet, that is.

NOTES: Overnight television ratings show that people watch when Woods wins, even if there's little drama.

CBS's telecast of his second straight title at Augusta National drew a 9.9 overnight rating from 1:30 to 6:45 p.m. Sunday. That's at least 40 percent higher than the final-round rating for the three previous majors - when Woods finished back in the pack.

The average overnight rating for the final two rounds of the Masters was 8.8; in the network's 47 years of airing the event, that was bettered only by the other times Woods won.

Overnight ratings measure the country's 53 largest TV markets; each ratings point represents 1 percent of TV homes in those markets. National ratings are expected to be released today.

The Augusta Chronicle and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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