2005: Masters - Finally, Woods’ game again matches his heart

It took a little more than a hot flat stick to win the latest golf “tooniment” at Augusta National – the one Johnny Miller once dubbed “The Annual Spring Putting Championship.”

At the 69th Masters, Tiger Woods brought a bit of everything to the table. He putted pretty well (tying for 10th with 115 putts) and had stretches of great ballstriking, as if he had stepped back into 2000 all over again. The kind of great ballstriking that led to a seven-birdie blitz and placed him on track (9 under through 13 holes) to set a National scoring mark (he settled for a 65) in the third round, when he pounced.

There also were stretches of some wild, fore-right, not-so-sound ballstriking (see Nos. 16-18 Sunday). That’s when the rest of Tiger Woods takes over: His heart. His desire. His steely resolve. His focus. His magician-like short-game skills and creative imagination.

And most of all, his sheer refusal to head home without the trophy in tow.

Woods isn’t much on giving runner-up speeches.

The ongoing mantra for months, as omnipresent as elevator Muzak, has been he’s “close.” In bits and pieces, he’s showing that he is. Closer, anyway, in his constant search to better himself as a player.

“I don’t think you’re ever there,” Woods said about his quest to find golf’s Holy Grail. “You never arrive, but if you do, you might as well quit because you’re already there.

“As players, if you ever have that moment . . . you should never have that moment. You’re always trying to get better.”

Woods decided to join the new millennium with a 460cc driver and graphite shaft, and has picked up yardage with his switch to the Nike One Platinum ball. His brutish power – long his huge trump card – is back, and at Augusta, that’s a huge advantage. He outdrove the gritty Chris DiMarco by 80 yards on some holes Sunday (though DiMarco, to his credit, never flinched).

And though Woods won’t be mistaken for Fred Funk when it comes to straightness, Augusta’s shortish, friendly “second cut” allows him to get away with hitting more than his share of foul balls. Only one player among the 50 who played four rounds managed to hit fewer fairways (32 of 56) than Woods. Nonetheless, he hit 54 greens (75 percent). Only Vijay Singh (58) hit more.

ShotLink can measure many things, but it doesn’t measure heart, and Woods never has lacked for it. Nor can any gizmo provide a reading on Woods’ supreme sense of seizing the moment. At the par-3 16th hole, Woods pulled an 8-iron into no man’s land, long and left of the green. DiMarco had a good look at birdie. A two-shot swing in the works, perhaps. Woods stood on the green, his arms folded across his chest, studied the ridge on the green he could utilize as a backstop, and in his head composed the shot he needed to play.

The shot pitched up the slope, did a U-turn, stopped for some coffee on the lip and tumbled in for an unlikely birdie that will go down as one of the truly historic shots at the Masters – a place that already has a few in its rich library.

Cue the Sarazen 4-wood tape.

By capturing his ninth major (fourth Masters), Woods has joined such names as Ben Hogan and Gary Player, and he’s halfway to you-know-who and his 18 majors.

Asked about a Grand Slam, Woods wouldn’t bite. But if he straightens out the driver, with three venues ahead (Pinehurst No. 2, St. Andrews, Baltusrol) that suit him so well, you’d be crazy to think it couldn’t happen. You can’t win ’em all unless you get the first one.

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