Augusta, Ga. | How did Tiger Woods win the Masters? The old-fashioned way – he earned it.
Consider, as most of the players did, that Woods is golf’s greatest front-runner. Give him a lead, and he’ll give you a shot in the gut. In the final round, after Retief Goosen three-putted the first green for bogey, Woods was ahead of all his pursuers for the final 17 holes.
For a notorious front-runner, that’s not a contest, it’s a cakewalk.
The story of his third Masters victory wasn’t written on Sunday, however. It was scripted on Saturday, when Woods had to play 26 holes and was 8 under par in doing so. That’s essentially when he set the stage for the seventh major championship of his professional career.
During eight holes on Saturday morning, Woods recorded five one-putt greens. Two of those were key par saves – 4 feet at No. 14 and 10 feet at No. 17. “I’ve always said that it’s a better feeling making a big par putt than it is making a birdie,” he said.
Woods, who had lost his putting touch earlier in the year on the West Coast, clearly found it in the Masters. He converted 19 birdies (only runner-up Retief Goosen, with 21, was better). He three-putted only once, and that came on the final day when he faced a double-breaking, 70-foot putt on the fifth green.
Keen observers will say that Woods is the smartest, most disciplined player in the game. In the final round, he displayed the kind of steely attitude that allowed him to remain calm and steady while all others were falling apart.
Woods made few mistakes in the final round, while his closest pursuers made plenty. Goosen three-putted two of the first four greens. Phil Mickelson, who finished third, opened with two consecutive birdies but then stepped backward with two consecutive bogeys. Ernie Els made a triple bogey, and Vijay Singh and Angel Cabrera made quadruple bogeys.
How smart is Woods? After hitting his tee shot on the 13th hole Saturday afternoon, he discovered a lump of mud on the left side of the ball. “You know it goes to the right because of that,” he said.
Woods also admitted to studying grain in the fairways and fringes of the greens.
“The fairways are all different lengths,” he said. “Some were cut, some were not cut (because of the rain). Some of the greens were different speeds than others. It was really tough to gauge what was going on. Some of the fringes were cut, some weren’t cut. It was just a test out there.”
And, naturally, he passed with an A-plus.
Looking at statistics, it was difficult to separate Woods from Goosen. Each hit 39 of 56 fairways off the tee; Woods hit 54 greens in regulation while Goosen hit 52; Woods had 115 total putts and Goosen had 114.
The difference between the two occurred early in the final round, as Woods gained four strokes in the first four holes. Give a front-runner a lead, and he will bury you. Goosen effectively was buried, although birdies at 15 and 16 moved him into second place ahead of Mickelson.
The Woods formula for winning majors seems evident, and he followed it perfectly at the Masters:
Round 1 (70): Get off to a solid start; take no chances; don’t worry about falling a few strokes behind.
Round 2 (69): More solid golf; continue to play conservatively; avoid mistakes; don’t be concerned about trailing a few golfers.
Round 3 (66): Get into a rhythm; play slightly more aggressively; try to establish a birdie streak; the goal is to make the final pairing on Sunday.
Round 4 (71): Do whatever is necessary to win; play intelligently; watch the leaderboards; a three- or four-stroke lead is not enough; be determined; never surrender first place.
“He does so many things so well,” Goosen said. “He’s tough to beat.”
Especially when he is given a lead.