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Master of them all

Duval shares the lead. So does Mickelson. But neither derails Tiger Woods, who shoots 16 under and is the reigning champion at four majors.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 9, 2001

Duval shares the lead. So does Mickelson. But neither derails Tiger Woods, who shoots 16 under and is the reigning champion at four majors.

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The challengers made this a competition rather than a coronation, battling desperately for the championship hardware they might otherwise have claimed, looking to make their own history. One man stood in their path, casting a shadow taller than the Georgia pines, emerging victorious again.

Tiger Woods won the Masters on Sunday at Augusta National over David Duval and Phil Mickelson, claiming his fourth consecutive major championship, a feat never accomplished in the modern era of golf.

Now it's left for the pundits to decide whether winning four in a row over two seasons constitutes a Grand Slam. Woods wasn't campaigning, simply savoring his sixth major title and second Masters.

"It is special, it really is," said Woods, whose 68, including a 15-foot birdie at the 18th hole, gave him a 16-under-par 272 and a two-shot win. "When I won in '97, I was a little young, a little naive, and didn't understand what I accomplished. This year, I understand. I've been around the block. I have a better appreciation for winning a major championship.

"And to win four of them in succession ... it's just hard to believe, really."

Jack Nicklaus used to start seasons believing he could win all four of golf's major championships -- the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. So did Arnold Palmer. They never won more than two in the same year. In fact, winning all four in a career became a benchmark only four men had accomplished until Woods joined Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Nicklaus last summer with his British Open victory at St. Andrews.

When he went on to win the PGA Championship at Valhalla (he also won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach) Woods, 25, became the only player since Hogan to win three in a season. And his sights were then set on Augusta.

"As a kid, I don't think I ever thought about winning four consecutive majors," said Woods, who has 27 PGA Tour titles and is tied for 11th -- 12 behind Nicklaus -- in major wins. "From that standpoint, I am amazed."

So is the golf world, which never has seen anything quite like this. In another era, Duval and Mickelson might be heralded as amazing champions, golfers who have the goods to win major championships. But how do you get your own green jacket -- or any major championship artifact -- with Woods hording them?

"It's very difficult to win these events, any of these major golf tournaments," said Duval, 29, who has contended at the Masters for four straight years. "To have your game peak at the right place, at the right time. There's an art to that.

"It's an accomplishment for him that I don't know what you would compare it to because I don't know if there is anything you can compare it with. There's going to be a heck of a lot of stuff going on for him at Southern Hills (for the U.S. Open in June). As it stands now, it's clear that somebody has to play to beat him."

Duval tried, shooting 67 for a 274 -- a score good enough to win 59 previous Masters and get in a playoff in two others. Duval made eight birdies and was tied with Woods through 15 holes, but his 7-iron approach to the 16th green flew 190 yards and put him in a nearly impossible position to make par. He dropped a shot back, then missed birdie putts of 14 feet at the 17th and 6 feet at the 18th.

Mickelson, 30, also searching for his first major title, was paired with Woods, but fell behind after missing a short par putt at the sixth hole. He was three back after a bogey at the 11th, but found new life at the 15th where Woods missed a 3-footer for birdie while Mickelson made his putt to pull within one shot.

But he bogeyed the 16th to fall two behind, and Woods did not provide any other chances.

"If I'm going to win with Tiger in the field, I cannot make the mistakes that I have been making," said Mickelson, whose 70 put him third, three behind Woods. "I've got to eliminate those somehow. I may be able to make one or two, but I can't make as many as I've made all week. ... I just can't afford to keep throwing shot after shot away."

Woods, who won $1,008,000, did not make those errors. He did bogey the first hole to fall into a tie with Mickelson, but rebounded with a birdie at No. 2. Birdies at seven and eight kept him tied or ahead of Duval, and he nearly holed his approach at the 11th for an eagle, settling for an easy birdie.

A bogey at the 12th only seemed to spur Woods more. He ripped a 3-wood tee shot around the corner at the par-5 13th, needing only an 8-iron to reach the green in two. He two-putted for birdie, never falling behind.

At the 18th, Woods could take two putts and win, but his birdie try fell, and tears soon followed.

It was the end to a remarkable run -- or perhaps the beginning of another.

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