Is Woods `close' to a major rerun?

Golf: Tiger Woods' win at Augusta bears several remarkable similarities to the 1999 PGA triumph that vaulted him to domination.

THE MASTERSGolf

April 12, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - The path Tiger Woods took in winning the 69th Masters on Sunday was eerily similar to the one that led him to win the 1999 PGA Championship.

Not only did he need to grind out a narrow victory after seemingly being in control, but both wins also came at the end of a period when Woods had gone winless in major championships for a prolonged period while rebuilding his swing.

In 1999 at Medinah, Woods beat Sergio Garcia of Spain by one stroke after losing nearly all of a five-shot lead earlier in the final round. Woods, who had not won a major since the 1997 Masters, held on by making an 8-foot par save on the 17th hole.

On Sunday, Woods beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff after losing all of a four-stroke lead that he held early in the final round. Woods, who had not won a major since the 2002 U.S. Open, won with a 15-foot birdie putt on the first hole of sudden death.

"It is comparable to what I went through at Medinah," said Woods, 29, whose victory was his third this year, his fourth Masters title, his ninth major championship and the 43rd win of his nine-year career.

"When you're out there playing, you've got to trust what you've got, and I trusted it because it got me this far. You know, why not? I hit some beautiful golf shots today, and also hit some bad ones."

While the swing changes he made with old coach Butch Harmon after winning the Masters by a record 12 strokes as a 21-year-old were more radical, those he made under new coach Hank Haney were more critical to the longevity of his career.

Now comes another potential parallel: Will Woods see his career skyrocket again after joining Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to have won at least four green jackets?

The win at Medinah started Woods on a streak that included seven victories in 11 major championships, including three straight to end the 2000 season as well as a fourth at the 2001 Masters to complete what is now called the "Tiger Slam."

Asked Sunday night if the competition at the top is tougher now than it was then, Woods said, "Competition wasn't easy then. It's just a matter of going out and playing your game, and hopefully you're better that particular week. That's as simple as it gets."

During a stretch of 10 major championships when he rarely contended, Woods' mantra with the media was that he was "close." Many were skeptical, some even predicting that Woods would never be a dominant player again.

Haney, a well-respected Texas teaching pro who was introduced to Woods by Mark O'Meara, said Sunday that "it was the media's perception that things weren't working."

"But when Tiger was practicing or when he was playing at home he felt really good about what he was doing, or he wouldn't have stayed with it," Haney said. "He kept saying he was close, and that became a joke. He could feel it coming."

Not that Woods is a dominant player again. He finished next to last in driving accuracy among the 50 players who made the cut, and he came close to losing in regulation when DiMarco nearly chipped in from off the 18th green.

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

Could he have won this year with his old swing?

"I've won seven majors with the other swing, or six majors and one previous with a different swing here the first time around," he said. "So it did all right."

There will now again be talk of Woods winning the Grand Slam, since the U.S. Open will be played at Pinehurst No. 2, where he contended in 1999 before he finished tied for third, and the British Open will be held at St. Andrews, where he won by eight strokes in 2000.

Someone wanted to know when he would start thinking about the Grand Slam.

"I don't know, when we go to IHOP or something," said Woods, who obviously doesn't eat at Denny's.

Jack Nicklaus, who probably made his last Masters appearance this year, said when Woods played here as an amateur in 1995 that the then 19-year-old prodigy would win as many green jackets as Nicklaus (six) and Palmer (four) combined.

"Just wondering what he was smoking," Woods joked Sunday. "It was kind of mind-boggling he could make a comment like that back then. You know, it would be pretty cool, that would be six more, that's a lot, isn't it?

"I think it's pretty neat for me to have an opportunity to have won four before the age of 30. No one's done that, so to be able to do something that no one has ever done is pretty neat."

And, at least for Woods, not that unusual.

NOTE: CBS' overnight ratings for coverage of the final round were a 10.3 with a 21 share. That was up 41 percent from Phil Mickelson's victory last year (7.3 with an 18) and the highest since Woods' last victory at Augusta in 2001 (12.9 with a 27 share). The rating is the percentage of all homes with TVs, whether or not they are in use. The share is the percentage of homes with sets in use.

The Augusta Chronicle and Associated Press contributed to this article.

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