Tiger Woods, who had trouble controlling his short irons in his first Masters, did so perfectly to win his second U.S. Amateur on Sunday at Newport, R.I., and earn another trip to Augusta.
"I spent hours and hours on the range and it paid off on the 18th hole," said Woods, who hit a 140-yard eight-iron shot 18 feet past the pin and watched it spin back to within 16 inches of the hole to all but end his 36-hole match with George (Buddy) Marucci.
One-up heading to the final hole at Newport Country Club--the 36th of the day for the two--Woods pumped his fist as he walked up to the green.
"I hit it straight and let the wind just ride it," said Woods, a 19-year-old sophomore at Stanford.
It was a shot he could not hit five months ago. He and teacher Butch Harmon worked on hitting the eight iron every day of the past week.
"The execution was perfect," Harmon said. "Before, he probably would have hit nine-iron and rolled it off the green."
The match ended when Marucci, a 43-year-old auto dealer from Berwyn, Pa., missed a 20-foot birdie putt and conceded Woods' putt.
"I'd be pretty arrogant if I said I wasn't thrilled [about simply making the final]," said Marucci, who advanced past the round of 16 for the first time in 16 U.S. Amateurs. "I don't think it'll ever be the one that got away. . . . I can live with losing to Tiger."
Woods is 36-3 in U.S. Golf Assn. matches, winning the U.S. Junior in 1991, '92 and '93 before becoming the youngest U.S. Amateur champion last year.
He joins Harvey Ward and Jay Sigel as the only successful defenders of the championship since World War II.
No one has won it three times in a row in the 100-year history of the tournament.
While the victory was not as dramatic as his 1994 comeback from 6-down in Ponte Vedra, Fla., Woods struggled against Marucci.
Marucci went 1-up on the sixth hole, the first time Woods has been behind all week. The lead became 3-up after 12 holes, but Woods had sliced it to 1-up by the end of the morning round.
They were even after 27 holes, and Woods had four birdies the rest of the way, finishing with a 66.
Woods said older amateurs such as Marucci and Mark Plummer, whom Woods beat in Saturday's semifinals, are tough opponents.
"They may have hit the ball all over, but they got up and down and they made all the putts they looked at," Woods said.
Buddy Marucci was one of five players selected to the U.S. Walker Cup team, which will face a team of British and Irish amateurs Sept. 9-10 at Porthcawl, Wales. Also selected to the team were 1994 U.S. Amateur runner-up Trip Kuehne, 23, of McKinney, Tex.; Jerry Courville Jr., 36, of Norwalk, Conn.; Kris Cox, 21, of San Antonio; and Chris Riley, 21, of San Diego. Tiger Woods was among the players previously named to the team.