Woods Masterful enough to make history

Monday, April 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Some will call it a slam, others a four-major winning streak. Either way, Tiger Woods is the undisputed master of the game.

Sunday, at steamy and breezy Augusta National, Woods, 25, accomplished the unthinkable. His two-stroke victory over pal David Duval in the 65th Masters marked his fourth consecutive major championship and made him the first man in history to hold the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA trophies at the same time.

"To win four of them in succession, it's just hard to believe because there's so many things that go into winning a major championship," said Woods, who earned $1,008,000. "You've got to have your game peak at the right time, and on top of that, you've got to have some luck."
Woods closed with a 4-under-par 68 to finish at 16-under 272. Duval shot 67, sharing the low round of the day with Toshi Izawa of Japan, while Mickelson had 70 to claim third.

"If I'm going to win with Tiger in the field, I cannot make the mistakes I have been making," a disappointed Mickelson said. "I just can't afford to keep throwing shot after shot away."

Nearly forgotten was that Woods has prevailed in his last three events on the PGA Tour. For the record, it marked the ninth time in his young career he has won back-to-back starts and was his 27th overall victory.

In 1930, Augusta co-founder Bobby Jones won a Grand Slam consisting of the U.S. and British Amateur and U.S. and British Open. As great as Jones was, Woods has lifted the game to another level. If he isn't the best of all time now, he is well on his way.

"Awesome," said 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples. "He is an amazing player. He's one of a kind."

Woods now owns six major titles and two green jackets, acquiring the first here in 1997.

"Today is a very special day," he said. "To have my mom and dad out here makes it even more special."

Woods started the last round with a one-stroke advantage over Mickelson in the most anticipated Sunday finish since 1975, when Jack Nicklaus outdueled Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf. Woods and Mickelson, ranked first and second in the world, had never played together with so much riding on the outcome.

The drama intensified when Woods bogeyed the first hole to drop into a tie with Mickelson. Duval caught them with a birdie at No. 7, his fifth of the day, and shot 32 on the font nine. Others, including Jim Furyk, Mark Calcavecchia and Angel Cabrera, made brief challenges, but it quickly became a three-horse race.

While Woods was chasing history, Duval and Mickelson were trying to atone for near misses at Augusta National, not to mention secure their elusive first major titles. Sooner or later both will get it right, but not on this day.

Whenever either made a move, Woods answered. He matched Mickelson birdies at Nos. 2, 7 and 8, made a nice save of par at No. 9, then buried a tough 10-footer for par at No. 10 to maintain momentum.

At the par-4 11th, which ranked the toughest hole Sunday, Woods bombed a drive and nestled a soft 8-iron to within a foot of the cup, nearly holing out.

But he gave it back at the par-3 12th, the wind changing as he hit and his 8-iron finding the back bunker.

Under normal circumstances, Woods would have been aggressive, but he was nursing a one-stroke lead in the Masters, and water lurked in front of the green.

"I played safe," he said. "A little chunk-and-run. If it's wet, I probably lose the tournament."

Woods made bogey to slip into a first-place tie with Duval, then produced the shot of the day. For months, Woods practiced hitting draws at the par-5 13th hole, and the hard work paid off. After crushing a 3-wood off the tee, he reached the green with an 8-iron and two-putted for a birdie to regain the lead.

Playing two groups ahead, Duval caught him again with a birdie at the par-5 15th, then bogeyed the par-3 16th when his 7-iron sailed over the green. In a word, Duval was shocked.

"To be perfectly honest with you, I thought I might have made a one," said Duval. "You don't fly it 190-something yards over a green like I did after watching Ernie (Els) hit up there with a 7-iron and he hits the ball a little farther than I do."

Needless to say, adrenaline was flowing. Woods squandered a chance to put Duval away when he three-putted 15 -- his fourth of the tournament -- for a par.

"I blocked it," he said of the short birdie attempt.

As he walked to the 16th tee, Woods said he reminded himself he still led by one. Duval had great birdie chances at 17 and 18, the latter from about six feet, but couldn't convert. After pars at 16 and 17, Woods had to know victory was assured with another at 18. He launched a monster drive, but it flirted with the trees on the right. Uncertain whether the ball reached the fairway, Woods and caddie Steve Williams asked a cameraman, who didn't know.

Not until they began their ascent up the hill did they learn the ball was safely in the fairway, the two exchanging low-fives.

As it turned out, the ball was 75 yards from the green on the 405-yard uphill hole. Woods hit a soft sand wedge 15 feet above the hole, then sealed the victory with an exclamation point. Only then did the reality of his accomplishment sink in.

"It was just a weird feeling," said Woods, who pulled his hat over his face and cried. "When you are so focused on each and every shot, you kind of forget everything else. When I didn't have any more shots to play, that's when I started to realize what I had done."
Despite enormous pre-tournament hype and week-long pressure, Woods never felt overwhelmed.

"You probably think I'm lying, but I kid you not, I actually felt more relaxed this week just because I had won this tournament already, which meant that no matter what happens, I'm going to get invited back," he said.

Woods was serious. Asked whether Sunday's victory completes the Grand Slam in his eyes, he replied, "I've won four."

Duval considers the accomplishment monumental, and most players agree. How does it compare to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak?

"I would think that it is something that would certainly have to be talked about in the same sentence," said Duval.

This much we know: Defending champion Vijay Singh put the same 42L green jacket on Woods he received in 1997, and the second time is sweeter.

"I guess I was a little young, a little naïve, and I didn't understand what I accomplished," Woods said. "Now, I know."