SI Vault
 
Perfect Pitch
ALAN SHIPNUCK
April 18, 2005
With a monumental chip shot that highlighted a Sunday charge, Tiger Woods fought off Chris DiMarco to win his fourth Masters and prove--again--he is No. 1
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 18, 2005

Perfect Pitch

With a monumental chip shot that highlighted a Sunday charge, Tiger Woods fought off Chris DiMarco to win his fourth Masters and prove--again--he is No. 1

View CoverRead All Articles

CATEGORY

WOODS

SINGH

MICKELSON

ELS

Wins (Tour Events)

19 (82)

16 (121)

9 (103)

7 (76)

Majors Won

4

1

1

1

Top 10 Finish Pct.

63.4%

55.4%

49.5%

47.4%

Winnings Per Event

$345,444

$236,470

$193,847

$210,298

Stroke Average

69.23

69.36

69.72

70.32

The smile said it all, didn't it? � On Sunday evening Tiger Woods stood at the back of the 18th green at Augusta National, awaiting his fate. He had just frittered away a four-stroke lead during the final round of the 69th Masters, flailing to a bogey-bogey finish that he would delicately describe later as "throwing up" on himself. Woods had staggered up the hill to that final green, his labored gait revealing the cumulative toll of a nerve-jangling final nine, during which he and Chris DiMarco had seemed to be playing H-O-R-S-E with their sand wedges. � Now Woods had left the tournament in DiMarco's hands, in the form of a do-or-die six-foot putt to force sudden death. Moments earlier DiMarco had lipped out a chip, coming agonizingly close to a birdie that could have won the tournament--yet this pit bull in spikes refused to crack. Augusta National fairly shook when DiMarco drilled his pressure-packed par save, but Woods never flinched. Instead he flashed that big, beatific smile, a jarring sight given the enveloping tension of the moment. What was Woods thinking just then? "This is fun," he confided later.

No one in golf lives for the moment quite like Woods. With his lead slipping away, he had dealt DiMarco a body blow on the 16th hole with a seemingly impossible chip-in that instantly became one of the greatest shots in Masters history. On the first hole of sudden death, Augusta National's 18th, Woods finally landed the knockout punches. "For some reason I hit two of the best golf shots I hit all week," he said of the three-wood he busted into the narrow fairway and an eight-iron approach that covered the flag. With DiMarco in with a par, Woods faced a downhill 18-foot putt to win the Masters.

The 18th green at Augusta National is more than just a putting surface; it's the sport's grandest stage. Last year Phil Mickelson trod the boards, sinking a career-defining putt from a spot not far from where Woods's ball had come to rest. After Woods's victorious birdie putt disappeared into the cup, he loosed one of the most emotional celebrations of his career, but the overwhelming feeling was, he says, "validation."

Woods's triumph ended a much scrutinized 0-for-10 drought in the major championships. During those barren 34 months he had revamped his swing and overhauled the equipment in his bag, while also finding time to spend $1.5 million on a Caribbean wedding, donate $5 million to build an eponymous learning center in Southern California, buy a 155-foot yacht, take his first ski vacation, begin learning Swedish (the native tongue of his new bride, Elin) and buzz around South Florida looking for a new home closer to the Atlantic than his residence near Orlando. Along the way there were plenty of naysayers who whispered that the swing changes were a mistake and that maybe a domesticated Woods no longer had the focus to return to the top.

His victory last week silenced the critics and changed the sport's math. In recent months the golf world had been anticipating that this Masters would kick off a new era of parity among the so-called Big Four of Woods, Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els. But Woods's singular performance at Augusta reaffirmed what we've always known: There is Tiger, and then there's everybody else. You want a big four? Check out Woods's closet, because that's how many green jackets are hanging there.

Only Jack Nicklaus, with six, has more Masters titles, and with all due respect to DiMarco, last week was a reminder that Woods's only real competition is with Nicklaus's legacy of 18 major championship victories. This is Woods's ninth full season on Tour--yes, the onetime boy wonder turns 30 on Dec. 30--and he has nine majors and counting. At the end of his ninth year as a pro, Nicklaus had eight majors.

On Sunday evening a philosophical DiMarco put into words how much this Masters has restored Woods's aura. "You know, I went out and shot 68 on Sunday, which is a very good round, and 12 under is usually good enough to win," he said. "I just was playing against Tiger Woods."

This year's model differs in significant ways from recent versions. In March 2004 Woods began working with instructor Hank Haney to build a more cohesive swing during which he maintains the same plane on the backswing and downswing. Woods's new swing began to come together in late '04, and at the season-ending Tour Championship he made another significant change: He switched to a 460cc driver with a 45-inch graphite shaft, at long last joining the space race for distance.

When Woods won the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes, he drove the ball so far with his prodigious physical gifts it seemed as if he were playing a shorter, easier course than everybody else. Wielding drivers with heads the size of toasters and composite shafts as long as fishing rods, the competition started closing the gap. Meanwhile, as late as 2003 Woods was still clinging to a retro 265cc driver with a 43.5-inch steel shaft, opting for precision over raw power. The oversized driver Woods went to six months ago helped restore some of his old distance advantage, and in January he took another leap forward by going to a hot new four-piece ball.

With his new swing and new tools Woods simply overwhelmed Augusta National last week, even though since 2001 it has been retrofitted with 305 yards of added length, expanded bunker complexes and a forest of new trees. After opening with a hard-luck 74 that put him seven strokes behind DiMarco, Woods got back in the hunt with a second-round 66, with all but one of the holes being played on Saturday because of rain delays on Thursday and Friday. Comparing the clubs he hit to various greens during the second round with those DiMarco used highlights what a different game Woods plays compared with an average-length hitter. On the 575-yard par-5 2nd hole Woods ripped a four-iron pin-high, while DiMarco was well short of the green with a three-wood. On the 490-yard 11th hole, the portal to Amen Corner, Woods played a pitching wedge, DiMarco a three-iron. At the 500-yard par-5 15th Woods bashed a drive to the bottom of the hill and had only a nine-iron in, leading to another two-putt birdie; DiMarco missed the green with a two-iron.

Continue Story
1 2 3