With six of the top seven-ranked players in the world in contention, Tiger Woods surprisingly eased into the green jacket for the third time.
Woods wasnt spectacular, but didnt need to be in shooting 1-under 71 to successfully defend his title in the 66th Masters Tournament. Woods, who recorded his first of now seven major championships here in 1997, finished the 2002 edition at 12-under-par 276.
'It was tough going out there,' said Woods, who accepted the 42-inch long jacket from Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson - a ceremony usually performed by the defending champion. 'I worked my butt off this week.'
Retief Goosen finished three back after a frustrating round of 2-over 74. Phil Mickelson (71) earned his sixth career top-3 in a major by finishing solo third at 8-under.
I dont think finishing third is anything to be disappointed about ' obviously, I would have like to have won my first major, said Mickelson.
Only one player broke 70 Sunday - Shigeki Maruyama (67) - at Augusta National, which was lengthened by 285 yards and toughened from a year ago.
The 26-year-old Woods is the seventh player to win this event at least three times, and joins Jack Nicklaus (1965, 66) and Nick Faldo (1989, 90) as the only repeat winners. In accomplishing these feats, he also collected $1,008,000.
Woods has now converted 54-hole leads into 72-hole victories 23 of 25 times in his career. He started the final round tied at 11-under with reigning U.S. Open champion Goosen. Vijay Singh (No. 7) was alone in third, two back. Mickelson (No. 2), Ernie Els (No. 3) and Sergio Garcia (No. 5) were all four back at minus-7.
The stage was set for one of the most intoxicating finishes in major championship history. And early Sunday, fact and fantasy fused.
Els and Mickelson each birdied their first two holes to cut their deficits in half. Roars reverberated through the tall Georgia pines, sending fans into a frenzy.
But before the needle could pin on the excitement meter, it dropped faster than an aging prizefighter.
Woods birdied the second and third holes to move to 12-under. Goosen, meanwhile, bogeyed the first and parred the next two to lose three strokes in three holes. He made it four for four with a three-putt bogey at the fourth.
Mickelson missed the green at Nos. 4 and 5 and bogeyed both. Singh played the front in level par; Garcia went out in 1-over 37 and never factored, posting a 75. And Els failed to capitalize on his fast start. The two-time U.S. Open champion played holes 3-12 in even, and found the water twice at the par-5 13th for a triple-bogey-8. He ended with a 73, tied for fifth at minus-6.
I tried ' just made a terrible swing on 13 and that cost me the tournament, said Els, who hit his tee shot into the left pines on the dogleg left. I got greedy ' tried to hit a 3-wood (off the tee), hook it around the corner. Its not the shot to play anymore. I knew that before I started the tournament.
Woods teased the field with a profanity-producing tee shot at the par-4 fifth. He hooked a driver, but it avoided disaster by hitting a tree and caroming into a clean patch of grass. He purposely hooked his next shot, around the pines and onto the front of the green. However, he three-jacked for his first bogey since the 14th hole Thursday.
Still, Woods led Singh by two shots at 12-under. He then crushed all competitors, hope of a meaningful back nine by chipping in for birdie at the par-3 sixth.
He parred Nos. 7-10, and bogeyed the par-4 11th, but still maintained a three-shot cushion entering Amen Corner, as Singh lost a shot at 11 as well.
The 2000 champion also bogeyed the par-4 14th, and, similar to Els, plunked two in the drink on the par-5 15th for a quadruple-bogey-9. He carded a gory 5-over 41 on the back nine to go from potential multiple Masters victor to an also-ran. He shot 76 to finish seventh, seven back.
Woods hit only one red-letter shot down the stretch ' an approach to a foot on No. 15. And even though he came home in 1-over 37, he never lost his nine-hole advantage of three.
'It's awfully special. For some reason, this one seemed a little harder (to win),' said Woods. 'It's been a long week, with the weather and the weather delays.'
Play was suspended Friday due to torrential downpours. Nearly half the field, including Woods, who had to play 26 holes, was forced to complete their second and third rounds Saturday.
Thunderstorms were in the forecast Sunday, but stayed away - and thankfully so. The play proved sloppy enough without the storm.
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