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THE 66TH MASTERS

Two Straight Jackets

Golf: Businesslike Woods jumps ahead early in final round, avoids trouble and cruises to victory at Augusta for second year in row.

April 15, 2002|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUGUSTA, Ga. — There was nothing really flashy about how Tiger Woods won his third Masters ... if you don't count birdies on two of the first three holes or chipping in at the sixth or knocking a pitching wedge to two feet at the 15th to take a five-shot lead with three holes left.

No, Woods was all business Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club, and the record will show that business was good.

He wound up with a three-shot victory over Retief Goosen and it couldn't have been any more workmanlike if he had put on overalls and punched a time clock on his way out of the locker room.

It wasn't as if Woods' one-under closing round of 71 had the earth shaking under everybody's feet, but it seems clear that something was shaking the other guys out there, because almost from the start, no one got close enough to see what color shirt he was wearing.

Davis Love III said there's something not so funny going on.

"He's like Nicklaus, like Palmer," Love said of Woods. "He's playing great golf [but] we're not putting it to him. There are guys who can do it, but just aren't doing it. Something's going on with him that's not going on with us."

What's going on with Woods is that he is the dominant figure in golf, which isn't exactly news, although his victory Sunday at sloshy Augusta National should serve as a jarring reminder

Woods, 26, has won six of the last 10 major championships and now has seven in all, tying him with some of the greatest names in the history of golf--Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Harry Vardon and Arnold Palmer.

Woods is only the third to win the Masters in consecutive years, equaling Jack Nicklaus in 1965-66 and Nick Faldo in 1989-90. His three Masters titles match Jimmy Demaret, Snead, Gary Player and Faldo. He is one behind Palmer and halfway to Nicklaus' record of six Masters championships.

Experience counts, said Woods, especially his experience at the Masters.

"I think going into today, it's a big relief knowing the fact that no matter what happens, I'm still a champion here and I've done it before," Woods said. "You know what it takes to win here. I know how to handle my emotions and being in the final group here at Augusta [and] you go out there and just play."

His 32nd PGA Tour victory also cemented Woods' reputation as one of the greatest front-runners of all time. He is 23-2 after holding or sharing the 54-hole lead. And one more thing: Woods has been in the last group on the last day of a major seven times ... and he is 7-0.

Meanwhile, the beefed-up Augusta National was a significant factor because of its new length. But the rain Friday and Saturday that softened the greens and made the course seem even longer was equally important to the outcome, because it played right into the long-hitting Woods' hands. He averaged 293.8 yards off the tee.

Tied with Goosen when the day began, Woods took his first lead of the tournament when Goosen pulled his drive and made a bogey at the first hole. When Woods hit a wedge to four feet and made the putt to birdie the second hole, then followed it up with a pitching wedge to seven and another birdie at the third, Woods led Goosen and Vijay Singh by three shots.

From there, Woods just buttoned up his three-piece suit, didn't do anything stupid, played to the fat parts of the greens and watched everyone around him fall by the wayside. Goosen was four over through 11. Through nine, Phil Mickelson--who would finish third--was no better than par.

Goosen, who shot a 74 Sunday, said Woods has earned a place in golf's highest circles.

"Besides Jack Nicklaus, Tiger is the best player," Goosen said. "Give him a couple more years and I think Tiger will be even greater than Jack Nicklaus. It's just a matter of time. He's hitting the ball so well, and with great imagination."

Ernie Els dropped out when he triple-bogeyed the par-five 13th, hitting his drive into the trees and his second shot into Rae's Creek. He tied for fifth with Padraig Harrington. Singh disappeared when he bogeyed the 14th and then made a nine at the par-five 15th, twice knocking balls into the water.

"That was the end of that," said Singh, who finished seventh.

There were more misadventures. Sergio Garcia shot a 75 and finished eighth. Thomas Bjorn shot a 77 and tied for 18th. Jose Maria Olazabal played the front in one over and was fourth despite three birdies on a solid back side.

As for Mickelson, he was turned back again in what he called his "quest" for a major title. Mickelson is 0 for 39 in majors, but this was his 15th top-10 finish in those Grand Slam events.

"I don't feel like it was a missed opportunity," he said. "I played very solid golf, but I didn't have that explosive spurt to vault me up on the leaderboard."

At the top of the leaderboard, Woods continued on his way, trying to do the right thing. He said he didn't feel he had won the tournament when he chipped in from 30 feet from the back of the green for a birdie at the sixth, but most everyone else felt that way.

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