It all felt preordained, inevitable, uneventful even. There wasn't
a doubt in the world how this would play out. When it was over,
not even the crowd, communicating the tournament's ups and downs
through Augusta's acoustic hollows, could muster a truly
surprised roar. Tiger Woods holed a 15-footer on 18, won the
Masters by two strokes, completed a sweep of the four majors and
generally made history. The crowd exited with proper restraint,
observing posted signs that said no running (but walking pretty
fast all the same), to get home for dinner. There was hardly a
sense that the moment ought to be savored or examined. Wasn't he
just going to do this again next year?
It's come to this, then: A 25-year-old golfer has made victory in
a major so routine that, even in the unthinkable stringing
together of four of them, he is denied proper celebration. It
will be argued that what he did, beginning with last year's U.S.
Open instead of the Masters (he took a mulligan--so what?), is not
really a Grand Slam, as if the term will be degraded to nothing
more than a breakfast order if the majors aren't won in a
calendar year. But, geez, if winning just one in a career were
that easy, then people wouldn't root so hard for the game's
second- and third-best golfers, Phil Mickelson and David Duval,
who keep finishing runner-up, on their good days.
Only Woods seemed fully aware of what he'd achieved, and that
realization suffered a little time lag. You may have seen it,
only not recognized its import: Woods, the tournament in hand
after Duval and Mickelson had bogeyed 16, was putting the
finishing touches on Sunday's 68, hitting his tee shot 330
yards, pitching 75 and then sinking his birdie try. "It was a
great putt," said Woods, reconstructing the moment. "It went in,
so be it. Then I walked over to the side, and I started
thinking, I don't have any more shots to play. I'm done. I just
won the Masters." Then he lost it a little and, lest that famous
corporate composure be seen to crumble, covered his face with
his cap, pulling it together in time to congratulate Mickelson
after his two-putt.
It was the only glimpse of his raw desire that Woods allowed last
week. Others, like the majorless Mickelson, admitted to
"desperately" wanting the Masters. Mickelson, a bold player whose
big bets on the golf course sometimes backfire (unlike his wagers
in Las Vegas, where he turned $20,000 into a reported $560,000
betting on the Baltimore Ravens to win the Super Bowl), was
unwisely naked in his ambition, although he responded to the
pressure with three sub-70 rounds (67-69-69) that put him in the
familiar position of facing off against Woods. (He's 2-1 in
shootouts with Tiger.) Woods, meanwhile, was characteristically
coy, complaining of "plodding" rounds of 70-66-68, in which his
shots were "fatted" or "bleeders" or otherwise unworthy of
further discussion. "Grinding" was how he described his round on
This self-deprecation, irritating early in his career when his
so-called B game was blowing pretty good golfers out of the
water, has become part of his patter. He employs it as reverse
braggadocio, making it palatable with winks and grins. What it
does, though, is mask the brutal concentration he brings to the
game, so intense it doesn't even allow him to realize when he's
done for the day. "When you are focused so hard on each and every
shot," he says, "you kind of forget everything else."
This intensity is only growing. The nine wins last year and the
three in a row this year (after a "slump" in which he failed to
win any of eight tournaments) do not signal a golfer satisfied
with himself. Woods and his father, Earl, who met at Tiger's home
in Orlando for the trip to Augusta, immediately parted ways upon
arrival and did not speak again until Sunday, following that last
birdie putt. "He was locked in," says Earl. Tiger instead holed
up in a house with fellow pro and neighbor Mark O'Meara,
reheating dinners that O'Meara's wife, Alicia, had prepared
earlier in the week and avoiding all contact with the real world.
If you were persistent, you might have caught sight of him on the
practice range, where he would repair after each round, pound
balls into the twilight and then scoot away in his courtesy car.
The car would be brought to the front of the clubhouse, Woods
would slide into the driver's seat, and right before accelerating
out the drive, he'd loll his head back against the seat, as if in
sudden and complete nervous collapse. Then he'd be gone into the
darkness. Or late on Sunday you might have seen tournament
chairman Hootie Johnson ushering Woods into the clubhouse for the
champion's dinner--"Don't worry, this won't take long," Johnson
said--and Woods sagging against the wall, as if shot, saying, "I'm
a little under the weather."
It could be that it's not so easy being Tiger Woods, though he
makes many protestations to the contrary. "You think I'm lying,"
he said after Sunday's round, "but I actually felt more relaxed
this week." He works hard behind the scenes at being the real
Tiger Woods, however, developing and practicing shots on the
off-chance he might need something special for Augusta.
Take Sunday's tee shot on 13, what he called a high sweeper.
"I've practiced on the range all week just in case I might need
it," he said. He didn't for three days as he played safely on the
par-5, dogleg left. Come Sunday, with only a two-stroke lead on
Mickelson, "I had to pull it out. I had to step up and aim
another 15 yards farther right and hit that big slinger around
the corner to give myself a chance." He birdied the hole to stay
two-up. Another trick up his sleeve.
This sort of recourse has to be more discouraging than the field
lets on. Woods, however, can tease the competition with his
vulnerability, and let's face it, it has been four years since he
turned pro and last won the Masters. This time, with the course
yielding plenty of birdies and with Woods looking beatable
earlier in the season, anybody seemed to have a chance. The
wavy-gravy greens, normally so baked that putts roll around like
marbles in a skillet, were soft and less catastrophic than ever.
Wonderful scores were coming in through two rounds, and the
leader board looked very interesting.
Still, everybody seemed to recognize that a timetable was at
work, that a point would come when Woods's major machinery would
be set in motion. Sure enough, Woods rose to the top for Sunday's
show, but six golfers were within three shots of his lead. The
Mickelson pairing was tantalizing, not only because Mickelson is
one of those greatest-golfers-never-to-have-won-a-major, but also
because of his luck in Tiger duels. Overlooked was Duval, whose
heart has always been broken at Augusta and will no doubt be
Despite an injury to his wrist that forced him to miss the four
Tour events preceding the Masters, Duval shot a very fit 71-66-70
and then, playing two groups ahead of Sunday's leaders, unreeled
seven birdies in the first 10 holes to grab a share of the lead
with Woods. Duval, who was in the hunt on Sunday before losing to
Vijay Singh at Augusta last year and to O'Meara three years ago,
kept track of Woods as best he could. Roars would rattle through
the pines, one neighboring rill to another, and frankly, "It
seemed like a lack of them," Duval recalled. "I was thinking, I'm
He was, until the par-3 16th, when he hit his seven-iron 183
yards and flew the green. The treachery of Augusta is that even
the smallest mistakes can be compounded into career-changing
errors. Balls hit greens just wrong, find some unseen chute and
roll back into the drink, and some poor golfer is never the same.
So it might be with Duval, whose chip left him a seven-foot putt,
which he missed for bogey: loss of lead, end of story (though his
six-foot miss on 18 with a chance to pull into a tie with Woods
was a needlessly cruel coda).
Woods used the same 16th green to shake off Mickelson, who was
gaining momentum. Mickelson barely missed a birdie putt of 35
feet, but it rolled seven feet past. He flubbed the return for a
bogey, while Woods made par. Who didn't see this coming?
If the tournament seemed to lack suspense, even with the game's
three best golfers flailing at each other to the end, it was
entertaining enough. Educational might be a better word. The
first three days, as they often do, drew the curtains aside for a
peek into the real world of golf, in which a less dignified
desperation governs the field and folks scrabble for lost swings,
new grips, an old peace of mind--anything to make a cut or just
stay on Tour.
Chris DiMarco was the first to bring golf's underworld to the
fore, cruising to a 65 and a Day One lead, stubbornly holding it
into Saturday and then going shot-for-shot (more or less) with
Woods in round 3. DiMarco would not wilt in Georgia's little
hothouse, acting pretty much as if this were where he belonged.
Except it was only six years ago that he couldn't make a
three-foot putt. "He was ready to quit," his father, Rich, said.
A slump is not failing to win in eight tournaments; a slump is
earning $18,000, as DiMarco did in '96, and having a wife and two
Then a fellow pro showed him, as a kind of drill, a radical way
to hold a putter. DiMarco adopted the ugly-looking grip--fully
contorted, with his left thumb pointing down and his right
pointing up--as his full-time stroke. Somehow the yips went away,
and he began winning money, almost $2 million last year, and that
put him remarkably at ease with a Tiger pairing.
It's not a game for the faint of heart. Rocco Mediate, who shot
66 on Saturday to make a surprise appearance on the leader board,
was another rehab project, resurrecting his game some years ago
with a chin-high putter. Mark Calcavecchia, who was runner-up at
the Masters in 1988 and hardly in contention at Augusta since,
had a 66 on Friday and a 68 on Saturday, climbing to within two
shots of Tiger. Until he invented his own clawlike putting grip
last season, the shaft running between his fingers, Calcavecchia
was hopeless on the greens. "Anything outside of 18 inches," he
said, "was 50-50."
A stranger to golf, seeing these three together on a putting
green, might be excited by the possibilities of reinvention
(whereas a purist would be horrified by the collective lack of
form). It turns out that, with enough imagination, you can come
The tournament also reminded us of the generational divide that
separates, roughly, Tiger's era from everybody else's. More to
the point, that divide means about 20 extra yards off the tee.
"The players today," said O'Meara, sounding much older than 44,
"hit the ball so much farther and have such a big advantage." For
2002 the club intends to strengthen the defenses of some par-4s
with extra yardage, although that would seem to reward Woods,
longest off the tee through the tournament, rather than punish
The message, above all, is that Woods mocks the field with his
talent and youth, and the only way to halfway keep up is to
cobble together odd grips or layouts. Yet for all that, he did
not lap the field, winning by 12 strokes as he had in 1997 when
his dominance was announced. Instead, and to the frustration of
those who believed Jack Nicklaus when he predicted 10 green
jackets for Woods, he destroyed the competition by increments. In
its way, this kind of play is scarier. Let the DiMarcos of the
world have their fun on Thursday and Friday because, underlying
each event, there is the inevitability of Woods, picking up
strokes here and there until it's over. "He seems to do just what
is required," said Mickelson, "and I think if I had made a run
[on Sunday], he may have followed suit."
His competitors are not sure how to deal with this, whether they
should fool themselves into thinking they really are in this game
or whether they should throw in the towel. Mickelson, emboldened
by a couple of head-to-head wins over Woods last year, is a
holdout when it comes to gushing over Tiger. Afterward he refused
to frame Woods's sweep of the majors in any historical way,
saying, "I really haven't been thinking about it." And just to
prove he wasn't mesmerized by his partner on Sunday, he added
that he hadn't even bothered to watch a single stroke of Tiger's.
"I just chose not to," he said.
Not even Duval, friendly with Woods and likely to be generous,
would admit he had come along at the wrong time. He believes it
is possibly a good thing, competing under this looming presence.
"It will make my victories in these majors that much more
special," he said. Because Duval had had a tough day, nobody
laughed or pointed out that such wins are imaginary to this
But you've got to have hope. How do you play golf without hope?
What would be the point of tooling up Magnolia Lane year after
year, packing a dreary resignation along with that new, let's say
nose-high, putter. Better to believe that someone will think of
something, a way to Tiger-proof the game. These are men who are
familiar with desperation and, having come this far, are
unyielding and resourceful in its face. Maybe some long-shot
gambit, like the Super Bowl Ravens, will finally come through for
a particularly daring golfer. Who knows? So, no, they will not
admit to us or themselves that this really is Tiger's world and
they're only in on exemptions.
Having seen what we've seen, though, we know better. At the end
of the day, with the sun dropping behind the tall pines, last
year's champion, Singh, slipped the green jacket over Woods's
shoulders for Augusta's annual coronation. Then, heeding the
calls of photographers, he did it again. The photographers wanted
more, and Singh kept slipping the jacket on Woods, over and over
and over, and it suddenly seemed that in some trick of time
compression the future was being unspooled, however jerkily, for
us. He just kept putting that jacket on, over and over and
make a three-foot putt.
anyone could win.
just won the Masters."