2002 Masters: Par 5 disasters ruin Els at the Masters

Augusta, Ga. | The record books from the 66th Masters will indicate a romp, with Tiger Woods coasting to victory by three shots. But afterward, clad in the champion’s green jacket, Woods admitted the temperature from within the walls of the simmering cauldron on the second nine Sunday was higher than outsiders will ever know.

Applying the most heat on Woods were a pair of international stars who are fast friends, South Africa’s Ernie Els and Fiji’s Vijay Singh, both of whom have hoisted a major championship trophy on more than one occasion.

Retief Goosen, Els’ South African countryman and the defending U.S. Open champion, eventually would finish second after making two late birdies, but it was Els and Singh who hung in and provided Woods’ toughest battle – though each would incur a par-5 calamity on the second nine that hastily removed him from the chase.

“I think everyone thinks . . . that everybody laid down,” Woods said. “That’s not how it was out there. Vijay was at 10 under par for a while, and Retief was hanging around and could have made a run at any time. You know that any time you make a mistake on the back nine, especially if you’re leading, the guys can go right by you.”

With the majority of a formidable Sunday leaderboard – a veritable Who’s Who of world golf – either spinning wheels or backing up on the first nine, Els, who began the day four behind co-leaders Woods and Goosen, mounted the best run. He birdied three of his first eight holes to get to 10 under, and appeared to hit a near-perfect approach at the uphill par-4 ninth, his ball landing within a few feet of the flagstick.

But Augusta National can be as cruel as she can be kind, and the backspin on Els’ ball sucked it off the steep, tabletop green and back into the fairway. He failed to get up and down, fell to 9 under (instead of moving to 11), and trailed Woods by four, not two.

“It was 2 feet from being perfect,” he said. “It’s such a fine line, hitting a great shot and a bad shot.”

Els scrambled to make a great par at 10 after driving into the trees and rolled in another key par save at 12 to stay within four. But his chances quickly unraveled at the par-5 13th, a hole Els has torn up in previous visits. Trying to slingshot a 3-wood around the corner to give himself a shot at reaching the 510-yard hole in two, he pulled his tee ball into the trees.

From there, against the advice of caddie Ricci Roberts, he took an aggressive line through the woods, hoping to hit the ball across the fairway into the right-side gallery, thus giving himself a good angle to the pin. The bold escape never made it out, though, bounding into a creek. He dropped, tried to reach the green from 194 yards, and stuck his fourth shot into the creek fronting the green. He eventually walked off with a triple-bogey 8 – attributable to a poor decision made on the tee.

“I told myself years ago not to play it over there (on 13),” said Els, who tied for fifth, his third consecutive top-6 finish at Augusta. “A crazy error. I didn’t listen to myself.”

The hole was typical of Els’ roller-coaster week. He shot 31 on the second nine Saturday morning, nearly making a putt for 30, to tie his career-best at the National with a 5-under 67, then followed by shooting 39 and 38, respectively, over the final nine in his last two rounds.

He did leave encouraged about what the future holds for him at Augusta.

“This place, the way it’s set up now, should be really good for me,” Els said.

Els’ exit left only Singh to challenge Woods. After a bogey on No. 14, Singh trailed by four at the par-5 15th, where he laid up after a poor drive and had a wedge in his hand for his third shot. His chunked shot ended up in the creek. He took a drop, and shockingly proceeded to knock his next ball into the creek as well, his quadruple-bogey 9 plummeting him from 8 under to 4. Singh, who two days earlier had been so brilliant in shooting a second-nine 30 and second-round 65, stumbled home in 41, finishing alone in seventh at 5-under 283.

“I hit two or three bad shots at 15, and that was the end of that,” said Singh, who spoke only briefly to reporters. “I’ll try again next year.” m

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