Garcia's final-round 66 helps him storm into contention

He finishes tied for 4th, best on PGA this season

Woods struggles to 290

Notebook

The Masters

April 12, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- El Nino blew through the grounds of Augusta National yesterday in the final round of the 68th Masters, just not in time to cause much damage.

Starting the third round at 3-over par and dropping to 5-over after a double bogey at the par-3 sixth hole, Sergio Garcia of Spain made a run with seven birdies and an eagle in a stretch of 11 holes.

He nearly made things interesting, leaving a 30-foot putt on the par-4 18th hole one rotation short of going into the cup. Garcia, who started the day tied for 20th, finished tied for fourth after a round of 6-under-par 66.

"I just feel like I played well enough to win," Garcia said after posting the best score of the tournament. "Unfortunately, I'm not going to. But, you know, that's the majors. It's not all about playing well. You've got to get lucky."

It was Garcia's best finish in a major since finishing fourth in the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, and his best finish on the PGA Tour this season.

Not that it left Garcia in a good mood.

"I felt like the first couple of days, I really felt like I shot 72, and I don't think I deserved more than a 69 at most," he said. "Then yesterday, I shot 75, I feel like I shot 80."

Even yesterday's round, which included a 31 on the back nine, could have been better.

"I felt like I left a lot of shots out there that I probably didn't deserve," said Garcia, 24. "But you know, that's the way it's been going and hopefully will change soon."

Private Tiger

He finished with a birdie and a smile, but it was way too little and much too late for Tiger Woods. A 1-under-par 71 left the three-time Masters champion at 2-over-par 290, tied for 22nd. It was his worst finish in the Masters as a pro.

It also marked the seventh straight major that Woods didn't win.

"Disappointed, certainly, because I didn't win," Woods said. "That's obviously the ultimate goal, to win the tournament, and I didn't do it. I felt like I hit the ball well enough to do it. I just didn't make any putts."

Woods will have a different kind of challenge ahead this week when he heads to Fort Bragg, N.C., for five days of basic training with a Special Operations unit of the U.S. Army.

"Fort Bragg will probably be more physically difficult, but this is more a mental test here," said Woods, whose father, Earl, was a Green Beret during the Vietnam War.

Rising star

While he didn't cause the commotion that Matt Kuchar did here as an amateur in 1998, Casey Wittenberg did something better: At even-par 288, he finished tied for 11th to earn a return trip next year.

Wittenberg, a 19-year-old junior at Oklahoma State, shot a final round of 3-under-par 69, including 5-under 31 on the back nine, to finish higher than any amateur since Charlie Coe, who came in sixth in 1959.

"When you play with these pros, you listen to them talk about how one shot can change your round, that happened to me," said Wittenberg. "You can't ever quit."

After a birdie on the par-5 second hole brought Wittenberg down to 2-over par, three straight bogeys starting at the par-3 fourth sent him reeling just a bit.

"I got a little frustrated," he said later.

It took awhile for Wittenberg to get his composure back, but he closed strong. Starting with a birdie on the par-5 13th, Wittenberg played the last six holes in 5-under par, including an eagle on the par-5 15th.

In accepting a silver loving cup given to the low amateur by tournament chairman Hootie Johnson, Wittenberg said at the awards ceremony that it was special to be part of a tournament that included the Masters farewell of Arnold Palmer and the first major championship of Phil Mickelson.

On top of that, Wittenberg played a practice round and his first two regulation rounds with Woods.

"I can't write a better script," said Wittenberg. "There are some things I want to improve on. To play with Tiger is unbelievable. I saw his game and how polished he is. He makes shots out there that are jaw-dropping."

More Casey

Paul Casey didn't make history yesterday in trying to become the second Masters rookie to win the tournament, the first since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. But the 26-year-old Englishman certainly made progress.

"This gives me a real taste for it," said Casey, who was within a shot of the lead early until faltering with a 2-over-par 74 to finish tied for sixth at 2-under 286. "It's been fantastic."

Casey's performance here comes on the heels of his tie for 10th at last month's Players Championship.

"The last two events over here have been great," said Casey, who'll return to the European Tour. "I feel I can win this tournament someday if I keep learning, keep plugging away and this could be mine."

Declawed

Chris DiMarco, who is best known for using a claw putting grip, looked to have his hands in a different position after falling out of a share of the third-round lead. (Think somewhere around his throat.)

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