Birdie putt on first playoff hole defeats DiMarco

Updated: April 11, 2005, 12:05 AM ET
Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The chip scooted up the slope and crawled toward the hole. There, for two agonizing seconds, it hung on the edge before disappearing into the cup.

Golfers who have won
at least four majors
18 -- Jack Nicklaus
11 -- Walter Hagen
9 -- Ben Hogan; Gary Player; Tiger Woods
8 -- Tom Watson
7 -- Harry Vardon; Bobby Jones; Gene Sarazen; Sam Snead; Arnold Palmer
6 -- Lee Trevino; Nick Faldo
5 -- J.H. Taylor; James Braid; Byron Nelson; Peter Thomson; Seve Ballesteros
4 -- Tom Morris Sr.; Tom Morris Jr.; Jamie Anderson; James Barnes; Bobby Locke; Raymond Floyd

A shot for the ages, sheer magic from Tiger Woods' glorious past in The Masters.

Just as stunning was the mess that followed, shots into the trees and the sand, a rare collapse by the greatest closer in golf on the verge of blowing a final-round lead in a major for the first time.

The only thing that looked familiar was Woods wearing a green jacket.

Woods kept a breathless gallery guessing to the very end Sunday, when he delivered his best two shots under stifling pressure and made a 15-foot birdie putt to beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff to win his fourth Masters.

"I was just trying to hang in there," Woods said. "To play as poorly as I did on 17 and 18 and have a chance to go into a playoff and hit two of the best golf shots I've hit all week is really sweet."

It was a show-stopper that started on dew-covered fairways in the morning when Woods rattled off seven straight birdies to tie The Masters record. It ended in fading sunlight when Woods hit a perfect tee shot in the playoff and an 8-iron that covered the flag. His winning putt slid into the corner of the cup and sent Woods to his ninth major championship at age 29.

DiMarco gave him the fight of his career, chipping away at a three-shot deficit with a 35-foot birdie on the 11th and applying the pressure with steely nerves.

He played with Phil Mickelson last year when Lefty won his first major with an 18-foot birdie on the final hole. He was helpless as Woods made a 15-foot putt in the playoff on No. 18 from the same line.

"I was ready to win," DiMarco said. "I will be ready to win next year. I certainly feel like I can."

Woods knew it was over when the ball was a foot from the hole, taking two steps to the left as a smile creased his face and his right fist punched the air with fury.

DiMarco, whose birdie chip in regulation caught the right edge of the cup, again came up short of the green in the playoff and chipped close for a tap-in par. He took his hat off and ran his hand through his hair, crouched and kept looking up at Woods and down at his feet, afraid to watch, perhaps knowing what was about to happen.

When the putt fell, DiMarco walked slowly toward Woods and congratulated him.

"Expect the unexpected," DiMarco said. "Unfortunately, it's not unexpected what he's going to do."

Woods closed with a 1-under 71 and won for the second time in a playoff at a major, wrapping up a long and bizarre week at Augusta National. It started with rain delays, and an eagle putt that Woods rolled all the way into Rae's Creek. It ended with his record run of birdies to seemingly pull away, only to be dragged into a duel by DiMarco.

Woods and DiMarco played 28 holes on Sunday, and gave the gallery a Masters it won't soon forget.

For Woods, the only thing missing was his father waiting for him on the 18th green to celebrate. Earl Woods' health has been bad all year, and he never left his hotel room. Woods broke down while dedicating the victory to him.

"Every year that I've been lucky enough to win this tournament, my dad's been there to give me a big hug. And today, he wasn't there," Woods said, his voice cracking and his eyes filling with tears. "I can't wait to get home and see him, and give him a big bear hug."

Woods never needed so many heroics to win his previous three Masters.

DiMarco was responsible for that.

"This was one fun victory, but also a lot of work because I was playing with one heck of a competitor," Woods said. "Chris has got no backoff in him. He'll come at you ... and that's what he did today. He put up a heck of a fight."

Woods emerged from this battle with his ninth major, tied with Ben Hogan and Gary Player, halfway home to the standard set by Jack Nicklaus. He joined Nicklaus (six) and Arnold Palmer (four) as the only players with at least four Masters titles.

Still, this didn't look like the same player who won his first eight majors.

At times Woods was simply brilliant, especially when it took him only five shots over two holes in 22 minutes to make up a four-shot deficit when the third round resumed Sunday morning. He tied a Masters record with seven straight birdies on his way to a 65, giving him a three-shot lead going into the final round.

But he made the kind of mistakes rarely seen from Woods in the final round of a major -- a three-putt on the fifth hole from about 25 feet, a poor bunker shot on the 13th. All of them raised DiMarco's hopes.

"Anytime you can make him hiccup a little bit, you know you're doing something right," DiMarco said.

Ultimately, all that mattered to Woods was having Mickelson, the defending champion, slip the green jacket over his shoulders in the Butler Cabin, and being a major champion again for the first time in nearly three years.

He last won at the 2002 U.S. Open, and the 10 majors that have come and gone matched his longest drought.

"Ten majors is really not that long," Woods said. "Some guys go 0-for-life. I've had my major championships. I know what it takes."

This one returned him to No. 1 in the world ranking, again replacing Vijay Singh at the top.

Both players finished at 12-under 276.

DiMarco won over the crowd with his fist pumps and resiliency. After finishing the rain-delayed third round with a back-nine, 5-over-par 41 Sunday morning, DiMarco outplayed Woods in the final round and could easily have won except for missing four birdie putts inside 8 feet.

He was stunned, like everyone else, when Woods hit a chip on the 16th hole that instantly became part of Masters lore.

Woods was clinging to a one-shot lead and on the ropes, sailing his tee shot long over the par-3 16th green with DiMarco facing a 15-footer for birdie. Woods played his chip up the slope and watched it trickle down, begging from his knees for it to keep going. When it stopped, then dropped, it looked as though Woods had The Masters won.

"I would rank that as one of the best ones I've ever hit," Woods said. "It turned things around. It was pretty huge."

But even a two-shot lead with two holes to play wasn't enough.

Woods sliced his tee shot on No. 17 into the pines, couldn't reach the green and escaped with bogey when his pitch rolled off the green. He sailed his approach on the 18th into the bunker on the right and made another bogey.

That forced the 13th playoff in Masters history, and the second one in three years.

U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen closed with a 67 and tied for third with Luke Donald of England, who shot 69. They finished seven shots behind the leaders.

Mickelson and Singh played in the final round and barely spoke, having argued over spike marks earlier in the week. Singh got the last laugh with a birdie on the 18th for a 72, allowing him to finish one shot ahead of Lefty.

But that was just the undercard.

From a staggering rally by Woods in the morning to a shocking collapse at the end, Augusta National lived up to its reputation as the most dramatic stage in golf.

"I hope we put on a good show for all of you," Woods said.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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