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No. 3 beginning of the end for Tiger

4/14/2003

Tiger's scorecards
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The late Sunday afternoon wind freshens slightly, bringing with it the unmistakable odor of manure to the third tee box at Augusta National. Only a few Masters patrons remain here, mostly to watch the remaining twosomes hit their iron shots into the nearby seventh green.

Named ''Flowering Peach,'' the unassuming No. 3 is the shortest par-4 on the famed course. From tee marker to cup it usually measures 350 yards -- even less in the final round, a comparatively dinky 335 or so yards -- which probably explains why the massive Masters merchandise store doesn't sell a single item featuring the hole. Amen Corner is the centerfold of this 18-hole beauty, not No. 3. You can buy $16 calendars, $21 drink coasters, $15 notecards, $25 commemorative posters, and $150 limited edition prints of the world-renowned Nos. 11, 12 and 13, but there isn't so much a price tag on anything from little No. 3.

Well, it might be time for chairman Hootie Johnson to reconsider that sales strategy, especially after what happened here during the fourth round of this odd and quirky major. Flowering Peach became the place where Tiger Woods' quest for an unprecedented third consecutive Masters championship went to die. And while it was at it, No. 3 knocked then-leader Jeff Maggert senseless, too.

Woods stepped onto that modest tee box fresh from a well-earned birdie on No. 2. He was 2-under, only three strokes from Maggert and the top of the leaderboard. The gallery poured toward the third hole as word of Tiger's early charge spread across the course.

What this part of Augusta National lacks in reputation, it makes up for in subtleties. Four bunkers sit in a cluster on the left side of the slight dogleg. Pine trees and several gatherings of azalea bushes sit off the fairway on the right. Woods and longtime caddie Steve Williams considered their options:

  • Play it safe by hitting an iron, leaving yourself with nothing more than a wedge to the somewhat heart-shaped green.

  • Pull the driver and let the big dog munch on Purina.

    Williams suggested the driver. Woods was leaning toward an iron, but changed his mind.

    Uh, oh.

    ''If you choose the latter,'' writes former Masters champion Seve Ballesteros in the tournament's 2003 Journal, ''you won't always be rewarded, even with a good shot. ... It's an unpredictable hole, full of drama.''

    Too much drama -- and too many strokes -- as it turned out for Woods.

    Not to get too inside golf, but those gentle Augusta breezes were making Woods' head hurt. The wind played right to left on No. 3, left to right on No. 4 and right to left on No. 5. So Woods aimed just a tad right, figuring the breeze would tug his shot toward the middle of the fairway.

    Instead, his drive landed in the pine needles and nestled just below an azalea bush. Any closer and the ball could have pollinated one of the flamingo-pink flowers. Left with no conventional stance, the right-handed Woods had to turn around, take a wedge and flip the blade upside down, and swing away from the left side.

    ''Granted I hit a good shot to get out, but I also left myself one of the hardest shots there on the golf course,'' he said.

    Woods' second shot slipped through an opening in the pines and landed short and to the left of the green. Get up and down for par and No. 3 becomes a bothersome footnote.

    But Woods skipped his third shot through the green (''Semi-bladed it.'') and his fourth shot stayed on the fringe (''I kept compounding one problem after another.''). Two putts later he was at even-par after the double bogey, his hopes for a third straight Masters championship effectively ended.

    ''That cost me a lot right there,'' he said. ''A lot of 'mo (momentum) ... Looking back on it I should have just laid it back there and trusted my wedge game.''

    Even with the questionable play, Woods still thought he somehow could squeeze his way back into contention. ''I figured it I could go out and shoot 30 on the back nine, you never know,'' he said. ''I just didn't do it.''

    Wouldn't have mattered. A 39-30 would have put him at 4-under, still three shots out of the playoff won by the patient Mike Weir.

    No. 3 isn't the most difficult hole on the course, not even close. There was only one double bogey on it in 2002. This year there were 12 other holes that played harder. Of course, don't mention that to Woods. Or Maggert.

    Woods had one of the five double bogeys recorded on No. 3 this past week. Maggert had the one entry under ''others'' -- a triple bogey nightmarish enough to require therapy sessions.

    Maggert played it ''safe'' and look what happened: His 2-iron off the tee plopped into one of those four bunkers, and he thinned his 53-degree wedge so bad that the ball caromed backward off the lip and then off his chest. Two-stroke penalty. By the time he was done with merciless No. 3, Maggert had gone from 5-under and the lead, to minus-2.

    ''I didn't want that one incident to be the mark of my day,'' he said.

    Too late. Maggert did make an admirable little comeback -- moving to just one off the lead -- but then he recorded an 8 on the shortest hole at Augusta, the 155-yard, par-3 12th. So much for a Maggert jacket-fitting at day's end.

    ''I'd like to play a couple of holes again,'' he said.

    Innocent-looking No. 3 would be the first choice of both Woods and Maggert. That's where their rounds crashed and burned.

    An hour or so after the final twosome has played through, No. 3 is virtually deserted. Maggert's divot in the bunker has long since been raked over. Evidence of Woods' hack in the pine needles is impossible to find.

    A handful of maintenance workers wearing yellow coveralls pick garbage from the grandstand just off the No. 3 green. Roars echo through the pines, but on this day, in this round, too few of them are for Woods and Maggert. Both follow up 6-under 66s on Saturday with 4-over 75s on Sunday.

    Later, someone asks Woods to explain why he didn't win another Masters. Woods can hardly contain his sarcastic chuckle.

    ''It's not easy, bud,'' he says.

    Nothing was Sunday, especially No. 3.

    Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.