By Art Spander, Oakland Tribune
The images, so poignant, so enthralling, stay with us even now, months after they were created on that momentous Sunday in April. We see a golf ball, virtually hanging in space, a Nike logo, as much as embellishment as a selling tool, imprinted on the ball and in our minds, then the ball tumbling into the cup and our memory.
We see Tiger Woods, wearing traditional red and a look of gratified elation, an hour or so later in the golden sunset pumping his first perhaps even more emphatically than he ever had in his most marvelous of careers.
The 2005 Masters, with its too frequent rain, with its announced farewell rounds from the great Jack Nicklaus, with its expected final-day drama, indeed was much more than one man and two moments. And yet it was the chip shot, a figuratively impossible one from off the 16th green, and then the instant of triumph which we carry, the way Tiger carried away the tournament championship for a fourth time.
The way Gene Sarazen's double-eagle on 15 in 1935, the way Jack Nicklaus' 40-foot putt on 16 in 1975 both became part of the lore of the Masters and of golf in general, so will Woods' 30-foot birdie chip on 16 become part of history, as it became a huge part of victory.
Before that delicate, tantalizing chip, it appeared Woods might make bogey, although trying to guess what could happen when musing about Tiger usually becomes academic. A oneshot lead might, if DiMarco could make his birdie putt–again an assumption and one that failed to materialize–evolve into a one-shot deficit. Or more realistically a tie, DiMarco getting his par-3, which he did, Tiger getting a bogey-4, which he didn't.
As DiMarco was to remind, "Nothing's unexpected when [Tiger's] doing it. You have to expect anything."
A flick of the club, and the ball, landing on the green, began its slow journey to destiny. "All of a sudden," Tiger would affirm, "it looked pretty good. And all of a sudden, it looked really good. And then it looked like, how could it not go in? And all of a sudden it went in. It was pretty sweet." Tiger Woods has won the Masters, before, has taken the measure of Augusta National and the many men who have played it, but not in this fashion, this emotional and difficult manner, not when challenged by his own reputation and then meeting that challenge.
Four Masters now for Tiger Woods, four green jackets, equaling the number won by the incomparable Arnold Palmer, moving up on the number, six, won by Nicklaus, who not so long ago in a burst of admiration, blithely predicted Tiger would win 10 of them.
Four Masters now and a pointed rebuttal to those who wondered after a space of 10 majors without a victory whether he was up to winning the big ones. The ultimate answer came on a dramatic 18-foot putt at on the first extra hole, the 18th at Augusta, in a sudden-death playoff against starcrossed Chris DiMarco.
The ultimate answer came after Tiger created a few questions by blowing a two-shot lead with two holes to play.
So the two of them, the 29-year-old Woods, so famous, so successful, the 36-year-old DiMarco, golf's nearly man, each ended with 72-hole scores of 12- under-par 276. Tiger coming in with an erratic 1-under 71 the last round and DiMarco a 3-under 68.
The great ones find a way. The great ones make their own luck.
The great ones succeed even when it seems they shouldn't succeed. And so it was with Tiger, who, as he said, hit two beautiful shots on the 73rd hole, an accurate 3-wood, a spectacular 8-iron, and then, as DiMarco, who had missed the green and only could save par, stood and watched, rammed in the putt.
A putt that from practically the same place on the same stage Phil Mickelson had choked off the doubters and his winless streak in the majors. "This win wasn't only for me," Woods would say at the presentation ceremonies. "It was also for my dad. He hasn't been feeling very well. It's been a difficult year. He made the trek to Augusta but was unable to join us."
Then, thinking of cancer-stricken Earl Woods, the father who started him on the pathway, the man who put a club in Eldrick Woods' tiny hands at age 2, the son began to cry, began to wipe at tears trickling down his cheeks.
"Every year before when I won this tournament," Tiger said sobbing, "dad gave me a hug. He wasn't here today. I can't wait to see him and give him a big bear hug."
For a few years there, Woods had a bear hug on the game of golf, ripping off victories in seven majors in 11 chances, taking eight majors in all. But since the U.S. Open at Bethpage in June 2002, Tiger was no better than a runner- up, and when he slipped from No. 1 in the world rankings, and when he changed his swing, we asked if he were regressing instead of progressing. Which in retrospect was presumptuous and just a wee bit silly.
Now we know. Now we have been duly instructed. Now, even though he opened with a 2-over par 74, putting off a green into Rae's Creek, even though there were the occasional shots into the woods, even though there was an infrequent three-putt, Tiger remains the standard by which golfers should be judged. In a sense, order was restored, if somewhat shakily.
Never before had Tiger won any tournament, major, minor or in between, 40 of them, when he had not shot par or better in the opening round.
But in Masters '05 that fact was made irrelevant. Another remains pertinent, however. Every time through this Masters that Nicklaus said farewell in a major, Tiger won it. The way he did in the 2000 Open at Pebble Beach, which was Jack's last. The way he did in the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews, which Jack said was his last but changed his mind to return this year.
The way he did in the 2000 PGA at Valhalla, which was Jack's last. And the way Tiger did in 2005 Masters, which Jack insisted would be his last.
Woods, as relieved by his victory as he was gracious in his victory, credited DiMarco, a loser in a playoff to Vijay Singh in last year's PGA at Whistling Straights, for "getting in my face." Woods merely got in DiMarco's hair, and you could suggest, since the difference between the winner's purse ($1.26 million) and second place ($756,000) was roughly a half-million dollars, got into his bank account.
Cheers. And tears. Tiger's, when talking about his father. Nicklaus' when reaching the ninth green, his 36th hole, a day late–the second round didn't finish until Saturday–and five strokes short; it took 148 to make the cut and in his 45th Masters, Jack shot 153.
"I sort of lost it coming to the green," Nicklaus said after his eyes had dried. "I could never get it back to hit my putt."
There was a worry for a time that two ex-champions, Mickelson and Vijay Singh, just your basic A-list stars, might hit each other, all because of a situation quickly nicknamed "Spikegate." Singh, playing a group behind Phil on Friday, mumbled something about Mickelson's spikes tearing up greens soaked from the daily storms. Augusta officials approached Mickelson, who said, "I was extremely distracted... "
When another delay occurred, Mickelson and Singh found themselves along with a few other winners in the small Champions Locker Room, where according to a report in the magazine Golf World, one eyewitness conceded, "I thought the gloves were coming off." They didn't, and that Mickelson and Singh were paired together in the final round was a perverse sort of justice. They shook hands when they were done.
Some observers could only shake their heads after the first, and only, round by 73-year-old Billy Casper, the 1970 Masters winner, who despite physical problems, wanted to play a last time for his family. Casper shot a 105, 33-over par, a score that included an 11-over 14 when Billy pulled five balls into the pond on the same 16th hole Tiger had his monumental chip-in.
The 105 was the highest ever for the Masters, but since Casper didn't turn in his card the total doesn't go in the archives.
DiMarco was in front from start until, no not finish, until the middle holes of the third round, delayed until Sunday morning, when in something like 25 minutes, Woods, with a stretch of seven straight birdies that had started before darkness Saturday, swept into the lead.
Woods held that lead until the last two holes of regulation. That he bogeyed 17 and 18, after the chip-in on 16, to allow DiMarco to get into a playoff was somewhat of a shock. That Tiger then birdied that first extra hole to win was no shock at all. The man was back.