Woods Defeats DiMarco in Playoff

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods is the Masters champion once again, turning back a surprising challenge Sunday with a shot of sheer magic and a birdie putt to win a playoff he never expected.
 
A spectacular finish of birdies and bogeys finally ended when Woods produced the most important shot of all -- a 15-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole to capture his fourth green jacket and finally put away the gritty Chris DiMarco.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods celebrates his winning putt on the first playoff hole at Augusta.
Woods knew it was over when the ball was a foot from the hole, taking two steps to the left as a smile broke out on his face and his right fist punched the air with fury.
 
Everything else about this Masters was up in the air to the very end.
 
First came the most improbable birdie on the par-3 16th, when Woods skipped his chip shot up the slope and watched it crawl 25 feet down to the cup, where it paused for 2 full seconds before dropping.
 
``I would rank that as one of the best ones I've ever hit,'' Woods said. ``It turned things around. It was pretty huge.''
 
Then came an even bigger surprise. The greatest closer in golf looked like a first-timer at Augusta National, making a mess out of the last two holes to finish with two bogeys and allow DiMarco one more chance.
 
Woods made sure that was all he got.
 
DiMarco again came up short of the green, and chipped up 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 ball disappeared, DiMarco walked slowly to Woods to congratulate him.
 
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 that included two rain delays, an eagle putt that Woods rolled off the green and into the creek, a record run of birdies to get back into the contention and, finally, the fight of his life.
 
He now has nine majors for his career, halfway home to the standard set by Jack Nicklaus.
 
But this didn't look like the same guy who won his first eight majors.
 
At times Woods was simply brilliant, especially when he made up a four-shot deficit in just two holes 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.
 
Ultimately, all that mattered was having defending champion Phil Mickelson 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.
 
Chris DiMarco
Chris Dimarco reacts to his putt that sent his bid for the Masters into a playoff.
For DiMarco, it was the second straight year he saw the winning putt on the 18th hole at Augusta National. He played with Mickelson in the final group when Lefty rolled in an 18-footer from about the same spot as Woods.
 
His consolation was a 4-under 68, and a steely performance that kept fans on edge to the end.
 
``I was ready to win,'' DiMarco said. ``I will be ready to win next year. I certainly feel like I can.''
 
DiMarco, who spit away a four-shot lead in two holes earlier Sunday to finish the third round, outplayed Woods in the final round and could easily have won except for missing four birdie putts inside 8 feet.
 
He also was up against some magic right out of Woods' glorious past.
 
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.
 
But even a two-shot lead with two holes to play wasn't enough.
 
He sliced his tee shot 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.
 
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