AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Not the best players in the world, not a toughened up Augusta National could stop Tiger Woods' march to Masters history.
An early burst of birdies gave Woods control of the redesigned course Sunday, and he never let anyone closer than two strokes the rest of the way. He closed with a 1-under 71 to claim a three-stroke victory over U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen to became only the third player to win back-to-back titles.
''After the front nine, I knew it was all over for me,'' Goosen said. ''I just tried really hard for second. It is obviously difficult playing with Tiger.''
Despite all the changes to the course, the scene was all too familiar.
Woods walking up the 18th fairway in a victory parade, tugging on the brim of his cap to acknowledge the applause. Give him the lead at Augusta -- or just about any major -- and just wait for everyone else to back down.
Woods looked to the sky and smiled when his 18-foot birdie putt just missed, but he tapped in for par and walked over to hug his parents.
He finished at 276 and won a green jacket for the third time in six years. He became the first player to repeat as Masters champion since Nick Faldo in 1990. Jack Nicklaus was the only other, in 1965-66, and Woods' victory put him halfway to Nicklaus' mark of six Masters.
Last year, Woods battled Phil Mickelson and David Duval down the stretch to win the Masters and become the first player to sweep the four professional majors.
Another tight finish loomed, with six of the top seven players in the world all poised to win the Masters. By the end of the day, they were scratching their heads, trying to figure out what they could do -- if anything -- to tame Tiger.
''We were all trying to make something happen to catch Tiger, because we knew he wasn't going to falter,'' said Mickelson, who closed with a 71 to finish third, his 39th major and still regarded as the best to never win one.
Woods accepted his green jacket from Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson -- usually, that's the job of the defending champion.
''I think we're going to wear this jacket out putting it on you before your career is over,'' Johnson told Woods as he slipped it over his shoulders.
Johnson is the one who ordered the changes at Augusta, adding 285 yards, stretching the bunkers and shifting the tees, all designed to make the Masters a tougher test.
Rain softened the course and allowed for lower scoring. Perhaps it was Woods' presence that turned so many top challengers into mush.
Two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els tried to make a charge, and wound up with an 8 by hitting into the trees and into the creek.
Former Masters and PGA champion Vijay Singh went into the creek, into the crowd, into the trees and then took a 9 on No. 15. Goosen, who started the final round tied with Woods, was already three strokes behind after three holes.
''I was kind of surprised, no doubt about it,'' Woods said about no one making a run. ''But that doesn't deter me from my concentration.''
Can anyone catch Tiger?
''We've been over this 100 times,'' Thomas Bjorn said. ''This being the Masters and him being up there, it obviously puts you under a bit of pressure.''
It was similar to Woods' record-breaking season in 2000, when he won the U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes and the British Open by eight strokes.
The praise sounds familiar, too.
''Give him a couple of more years, and I think Tiger will be greater than even Jack Nicklaus,'' Goosen said.
It might take longer than that, although Woods is sure getting closer.
He won his seventh professional major, joining a list that includes Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer, who made this Masters his 48th and last.
Woods and Nicklaus are the only players to win a major four years in a row since the Masters began in 1934.
Woods also reminded people how tough he is in the final round. Woods now is 23-2 when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
Woods earned $1,008,000 for his 31st career victory, and he became the first two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year.
Goosen didn't make a birdie until the 15th hole, but moved into second when everyone else fell apart. The South African closed with a 74 and finished at 279.
''I was asking one of the officials, do I get the green pants for finishing second?'' Goosen said.
Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal started five strokes back and was never in the hunt. He felt no pressure and made no big mistakes, finishing with a 71 to take fourth place at 281.
It was only the second time this year that Woods failed to break 70 in the final round, but Augusta National finally showed some bite. Shigeki Maruyama of Japan had a 67 and was the only player to break 70.
Sunshine finally broke through the clouds after three days of rain that turned Augusta National into a muddy mess. Looks weren't everything -- it smelled bad, too, like a dairy barn with all the wet and trampled pine straw.
Woods, though, managed to turn the Masters into another thing of beauty.
For everyone else, it was a disaster.
Mickelson, playing in the group in front of Woods, made an early statement by hitting a 9-iron out of the fairway bunker into 14 inches on the first hole for birdie, then making another birdie on No. 2. Just like that, he was only two strokes behind.
Els also birdied the first two holes, poised to make a charge.
Woods made them all disappear.
He pitched up the slope to 6 feet on No. 2 and made birdie, then spun back his approach to 10 feet on No. 3 and made that for another birdie.
After a bogey on No. 5, only his second in 44 holes, Woods was staring at another when he went over the green on the par-3 sixth.
Would even he buckle? No chance. Woods pitched beautifully up the hill and raised his wedge in the air as it dropped for birdie.
There was no fist pump, no smiles, just another methodical day of work at the Masters.
All the emotion came from everyone else.
Mickelson angrily muttered through clenched teeth when a 4-foot par putt on No. 7 lipped out on the low side.
Singh got as close to two strokes to Woods, but when he three-putted for bogey on No. 11 to fall four behind, he slung his ball into the water. Another time, Singh put his hands over his head when his second shot to the par-5 13th bounced off the green and into a creek.
Els had a chance to get within two strokes as he watched his approach descend on the flag at No. 9. It pitched 3 feet from the pin, spun down the slope and off the green, and Els raised his club as if he wanted to pound the soggy turf.
It got much worse. He hit his drive into the trees down the left side of the 13th hole, and instead of pitching out, tried to cut the corner with hopes of still making birdie. Instead, he bounced off more trees and went into the creek, then hit his next shot in the water.
''For some reason, I got really greedy,'' Els said.
Maybe he had no other choice. By now, even the best of the rest realize that Woods wins most of his tournaments by letting everyone else fall apart.
''I tried,'' Els said. ''We all tried.''
Against Woods, especially at Augusta, that isn't enough.
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