Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tiger Woods wins Masters for first time since 2005

Tiger Woods reacts as he wins the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

It was a Sunday unlike any other at this tradition unlike any other.

But as he had on four previous Sunday afternoons at Augusta National Golf Club, Tiger Woods stood alone at the top of the Masters leaderboard.

Woods, 43, shot a 2-under par 70 to win his first green jacket since 2005 and his first major since the 2008 U.S. Open. He defeated Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffle, and Brooks Koepeka by one stroke, but that does not begin to tell the story of a dramatic Sunday that ended approximately four-and-a-half hours early after Sunday's tee times were moved ahead due to the threat of severe weather.

"It fits," Woods quipped after 2018 champion Patrick Reed slipped the traditional winner's garment over his shoulders in Butler Cabin. It was a far more sedate setting than the 18th green had been a few minutes before as Woods clinched the title with a short bogey putt.

"WOOOOOOO!!!" Woods screamed as he headed for the scoring room with chants of "Tiger! Tiger! Tiger" echoing as loud as any of the roars on the back nine at Augusta National. He scooped up 10-year-old Charlie, born a year after that dramatic victory on Father's Day weekend at Torrey Pines. He hugged his mother and then his 11-year-old daughter Sam, and everyone else in his camp that stood by him through a public divorce, an embarrassing DUI arrest from a concoction of painkillers and surgeries.

Woods began the day in a tie for second with Tony Finau, two shots back of Francesco Molinari, the defending British Open champion with nerves so steady that entering Sunday, the Italian had not bogeyed any hole since the 11th on Thursday.

But Molinari's nerves and shotmaking skills failed him on the back nine Sunday. Holding a two-shot lead on the 12th tee, Molinari watched helplessly as his tee shot rolled off the green and into Rae's Creek. A double bogey was not enough to drop Molinari from contention, but the veneer of invincibility had cracked.

If what happened at 12 was tragedy, what happened to Molinari at 15 was a farce. Playing conservatively to avoid the water on the par-5, Molinari found himself with what should have been a simple third shot onto the green. But he hit his wedge shot fat, popping it up into the air, off a nearby tree and into the water. He double-bogeyed the hole to drop out of a share of the lead.

On the same hole, Woods made a conventional birdie-4 to take the outright lead for the first time. He secured his advantage at the par-3 16 by sticking an 8-iron within 2 feet of the cup for another birdie and a two-stroke lead.

That birdie, along with a missed birdie by Koepka on 18, gave Tiger the cushion he needed to finish with a bogey-5 and secure his fifth green jacket and 15th major, trailing only the great Jack Nicklaus in both categories.