Woods wins Masters

By Paul Newberry Associated Press Published:

AUGUSTA, Ga. _ Tiger Woods knew the routine.

Tug the brim of the cap coming up the 18th fairway. Tap in the winning putt. Smile and wave to the gallery. Give mom and dad a big hug, as well as the new girlfriend. Head to the putting green to pick up a green jacket.

Woods, the meticulous Master of Augusta, has been planning these moments for a lifetime _ and Sunday, it was time to win his third championship on one of golf's hallowed grounds.

Don't forget, Jack Nicklaus was 26 when he won his third Masters in 1966, which also made him the first to win back-to-back titles. Woods won his second title last year and turned 26 in December.

By winning Sunday, he could check a couple more things off his list.

"Besides Jack Nicklaus, Tiger is the best player (ever)," said runnerup Retief Goosen, a helpless bystander as Woods cruised to a three-stroke victory. "Give him a couple more years and I think Tiger will be even greater than Jack Nicklaus. It's just a matter of time."

For the final round of the Masters, a superb collection of players lined up to challenge Woods.

Goosen, the U.S. Open champion, was tied for the lead. Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal were in the wings, waiting to challenge.

Was Woods worried? Nah.

"I always felt that I had the game that was good enough to win here," Woods said. "You have to just kind of focus and bear down and you know which shots are crucial, especially those par putts. You've got to make those. I've always said it's a better feeling inside when you make a big par putt than it is a birdie."

On this day, par was good enough. Woods shot 1-under 71 _ his worst score of the tournament _ but all the contenders went down hard.

Goosen dropped four strokes in the first four holes. Mickelson started with two birdies, then bogeyed the next two holes. Els had a glimmer of hope until he put two balls in Rae's Creek and took triple bogey. Singh deposited four balls in various bodies of water _ including one he threw in himself after missing a putt.

Woods cruised to victory with a 12-under 276 on the toughened-up, redesigned Augusta National. Goosen made a couple of late birdies for a 74 _ and seemed satisfied with his position.

"Tiger was really never in any trouble," the South African said. "It was good to finish second."

Mickelson shot 71, wound up four strokes back and is still the best player never to win a major.

"I thought I was very lucky to be able to play the final round of the Masters here at Augusta, play the back nine and be on the leaderboard, play this game for a living and be very fortunate," he said.

Is the gap as big as it looked?

"No," said Padraig Harrington, who finished six strokes behind Woods. "But I think he's good enough that he can build his game up. And he builds up for the weeks he needs it."

Like Augusta, which gave Woods his seventh major. He's 11 behind Nicklaus' career record with no one showing much willingness to challenge him.

At the start of Sunday's round, six of the seven top players in the world rankings were on the leaderboard. If there was ever a day for someone to overtake Woods in the final round of a major, this was it.

Instead, he had the look of a champion all day, making Woods 7-for-7 when he goes to the final round with the lead in the biggest tournaments.

"The thing about Tiger, he's the only leader that you don't have any hope that he'll falter," Mickelson said. "When other guys are up there, you know that if you can just stay around, there's a good chance they might come back with two or three shots. But Tiger doesn't ever seem to do that."

Woods seized control with an early burst of birdies and watched his rivals crash in a desperate and reckless attempt to catch him.

"You know that you have to go after him," Mickelson said. "We saw guys taking aggressive plays and making bogeys and doubles because of it."

The result was another march into history, with Woods becoming only the third player to win back-to-back titles. The first was Nicklaus, followed by Nick Faldo in 1989-90.

"I think we're going to wear this jacket out putting it on you before your career is over," Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson said as he slipped the size 42 long over Woods' shoulders.

It was Johnson who ordered the biggest renovation in club history.

It was Woods who wore everyone out.

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