Back on top in a major way

After late bogeys force tie, Woods makes birdie putt in playoff to top DiMarco

10-event major drought is over

He dedicates 4th Masters, 9th major to ailing father

`This win wasn't for me'

The Masters

April 11, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Tiger Woods found a new way to win a major championship yesterday at Augusta National.

He nearly gave it away.

After a pair of sloppy bogeys on the last two holes of regulation caused him to fall into a playoff with Chris DiMarco, Woods made a 15-foot birdie putt on the first sudden-death hole to win the 69th Masters.

With that putt, punctuated by a windmill pump of his right fist and the first of several emotional embraces with longtime caddie Steve Williams, Woods ended a winless drought in major championships that lasted 10 events and nearly three years.

As he walked off the green, Woods dabbed the tears in his eyes and, after hugging Williams again, looked out in the gloaming as if waiting for his ill father, Earl, to appear.

Woods later broke down during the ceremony to accept the green jacket for the fourth time. It was his ninth major title.

"This win wasn't for me. This one was for my dad," Woods told the crowd surrounding the practice putting green. "Every year that I've won, he's been here with me. This year he couldn't be here. I can't wait to get home to give him a great big bearhug."

His 73-year-old father, who has had health problems since Woods joined the tour in 1996 but has recently suffered several major setbacks, was only part of his motivation to win here again.

After winning seven times in a stretch of 11 major championships between the 1999 PGA Championship and the 2002 U.S. Open, Woods fired his longtime coach, Butch Harmon. He also changed equipment. In the past year, he hired a new coach, Hank Haney, worked on a new swing and got married.

Though he chided critics who had talked about Woods being in a slump - "They said I should retire," he said last night - Woods seemed as relieved as he was elated that he had won that elusive ninth major title.

Woods became only the third player to win the Masters four times, tying Arnold Palmer for second place behind Jack Nicklaus, who won six. Woods also moved ahead of Palmer in major championships with nine, tying Ben Hogan and Gary Player and getting halfway to Nicklaus' record of 18.

"Yeah, it is special," said Woods, 29, whose win was his third this year and the 43rd of his nine-year PGA Tour career, helping him reclaim the No. 1 world ranking from Vijay Singh for the second time in a little more than a month. "I've kind of battled the last couple of years to work hard on my game and make some changes.

"I wasn't winning major championships and I contended a couple of times and didn't win. But for the most part, I wasn't in contention on the back nine in every major like I like to be. That's where you want to be. It was nice to get back there again and be in contention with a chance to win coming up the back nine on Sunday. It was a thrill."

It was also thrilling to watch. Woods erased a four-stroke deficit on DiMarco in a matter of five swings and 22 minutes when the third round was completed yesterday morning. His three-stroke lead became four with a birdie on the opening hole of the final round, then Woods and DiMarco were left alone on golf's biggest stage.

Long after third-round contender Thomas Bjorn imploded en route to a final-round 81, after defending champion Phil Mickelson faded badly with a pair of double bogeys on the back nine, and right after Trevor Immelman provided some fireworks with a hole-in-one on the par-3 16th, the stage was left to Woods and DiMarco.

After each made birdie on the par-5 15th and Woods maintained what had been cut to a one-stroke lead by DiMarco's birdie on the par-4 14th, their private match seemed to turn in favor of the 36-year-old Floridian when Woods put his tee shot behind the left side of the 16th green.

Woods had about 30 feet to the flagstick, but he took a more circuitous route.

Trying a shot similar to the one Davis Love holed from off the same green in the final round of the 1999 Masters, Woods lofted his chip off the up-slope behind the pin and watched his ball creep back toward the cup. It hung on the edge as Woods staggered, then saw it drop in.

"Somehow an earthquake happened and it fell in the hole," Woods said. "All of a sudden, it looked pretty good. And all of a sudden, it looked really good, and [then] it looked like, `How could it not go in and how did it not go in?' And all of a sudden, it went in and it was pretty sweet."

Woods was asked to rank that shot in a career filled with many of similar proportion.

"Under the circumstances, it was one of the best I've ever hit," said Woods, who pumped his fist and then watched DiMarco miss a 12-foot uphill birdie putt, giving Woods a two-stroke lead with two holes to play. "I was just trying to throw the ball up there on the hill and let it feed down there and hopefully have a makable putt."

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