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The Nation

Woods Goes to Great Lengths to Win Masters

Golf: Unfazed by course changes, sport's best player wins major title for second year in a row.

April 15, 2002|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUGUSTA, Ga. — When Tiger Woods arrived at Augusta National Golf Club for the 66th Masters tournament, he was greeted by a new course--longer, meaner, narrower and presumably not nearly as good a fit for him as the green jacket that came with his victories here in 1997 and 2001.

Yet all the alterations made by the hierarchy at Augusta National--making nine holes longer and adding nearly 300 yards to the course, moving tee boxes, planting more trees and enlarging bunkers--couldn't change the final result: Woods posted a surprisingly easy three-shot victory over Retief Goosen on Sunday, becoming only the third golfer to win back-to-back Masters.

The design changes made to one of the sport's most treasured layouts were supposed to counteract the advantages enjoyed by the long hitters who have dominated professional golf in recent years, Woods chief among them.

But Woods shot a one-under-par 71 in the closing round while his closest challengers failed to mount even the mildest of charges. With his mother, Kultida; father, Earl; and girlfriend Elin Nordegren watching closely, Woods, helped by Augusta National Chairman Hootie Johnson, slipped on the green jacket signifying the Masters champion for a third time. For the tournament, Woods shot a 12-under 276.

"It's been a long week," said Woods, who had to play 26 holes Saturday after rain delayed completion of Friday's second round. "I'm pleased I kept my focus and stayed strong and managed to come out on top."

Woods began the last round tied for the lead with Goosen, but after he birdied the second and third holes, Woods held a three-shot lead. No one managed to move any closer to him. Allowed to play conservatively with such an advantage over his peers, Woods was not forced to be daring or aggressive.

It was an unconventional approach for the swashbuckling Woods, but as the results showed, it was also the correct strategy. When he walked up the 18th fairway, he removed his cap and allowed himself a rare smile as the gallery cheered and applauded. Woods barely missed a birdie putt, then tapped in for his par and raised his arms to celebrate.

"Besides Jack Nicklaus, Tiger is the best player," Goosen said. "Give him a couple of more years and I think Tiger will be the greatest of all time.

"He played really solidly and was never really in trouble. Nobody was putting any pressure on him. He was just cruising in. He knew he had it in the bag."

Said Woods: "The golf course was playing so difficult early today, conditions that we were not accustomed to, and I just tried to stay as patient as possible."

Woods, who five years ago became the first African American to win the Masters, continues to dominate golf like no one since Nicklaus or Tom Watson in their prime. Of the last 10 major championships, Woods has won six.

Since he turned professional in August 1996, Woods has lived a sports story rarely matched for fame, success and wealth. At 20, he signed his first endorsement contract with Nike was worth more than $40 million over five years. Since then, his combined income from endorsements and his golf game has grown to a reported $20 million annually.

He commands an appearance fee of more than $1 million to play tournaments that are not sanctioned by the PGA Tour, and off the course, his corporate partners have grown as his scores have shrunk.

His popularity helped the PGA Tour recently negotiate a new, four-year contract with a variety of broadcasters for about $850 million, an increase of 30% over the previous contract.

Woods obviously translates well on television. Saturday's third-round coverage of the Masters on CBS earned a 7.0 overnight rating and a 17 share, the third highest ever. The only third-round telecasts with higher ratings were in 1997, when Woods was on his way to his first Masters triumph, and last year, when he also won. (Ratings for the Sunday telecast will be released today.) "I hit some good shots and made a couple of good putts when I absolutely needed them and just really hung around," Woods said. "And I was able to outlast the guys today."

Winning the Masters gives Woods a shot at becoming the first player since Bobby Jones in 1930 to win all four major championships in the same calendar year--the Grand Slam of golf. Woods already has won a version of the Grand Slam, by taking four consecutive majors over two calendar years--the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship in 2000 before he added the 2001 Masters. Jones' Grand Slam consisted of the British Amateur and British Open, plus the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur.

Woods said last week the significance of his Grand Slam accomplishment did not strike him immediately. He had found himself more in the moment, of trying to win the tournament that Jones had started in the rolling Georgia countryside.

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