Woods cruises, opponents crack

Posted: Monday, April 15, 2002

AUGUSTA, Ga. - After Masters Tournament title No. 1, the father said his only begotten son was the messiah.

When the son won Masters No. 2, becoming the first man to hold all four major championships at one time, the father said his son would change the world.

Earl Woods, the master of hyperbole, tones down his act with each Masters Tiger Woods wins. Take Sunday, for example, when the father said the son simply had that special something. Something that no other player in the world can seem to find.

"He has an advantage over everyone because of how he thinks out there,'' the elder Woods said. "Once he has the lead, he has it in his mind that he isn't going to give it up.''

After three Masters triumphs and three attempts to explain his son's greatness, Earl Woods may finally have gotten it right.

Tiger Woods is not God or Gandhi. But ask his inner circle and the players he regularly beats on Tour, and the response is universal: More than talent, Woods thinks the game at a level unlike anyone on the planet.

Proving that theory was open and shut Sunday afternoon at the Augusta National Golf Club, as Woods rolled to a three-stroke win over Retief Goosen for his second straight Masters title, his third in six years, and his seventh career major championship victory.

"He has to have incredible inner confidence and belief in himself,'' said Brad Faxon, who finished 10 shots behind Woods for a tie for 12th place. "He doesn't let anything take him out of his place. It's tough to play with Tiger. He's the best player in the world and he doesn't give you any room to maneuver.''

As the rest of the players on the leaderboard Sunday folded under the pressure, Woods was unflappable.

Even when he erred, the 26-year-old never lost focus. He bogeyed the fifth hole Sunday, then birdied No. 6. He bogeyed No. 11, then rebounded with three pars and a birdie.

The master of minimizing mistakes? Woods is the undisputed king.

In becoming the third player to win back-to-back Masters, Woods made 14 bogeys in eight rounds. He followed those bogeys with six birdies and eight pars.

Woods has held or shared the lead at 25 PGA Tour events entering the final round. He has won 23 of them, including his three Masters and all seven majors.

"You just know Tiger is not going to make any big mistakes,'' said Retief Goosen, who played in the final group Sunday with Woods, and opened his round with three bogeys on the front nine to fall from a tie for the lead to five shots back.

"I think the thing with Tiger is he's the only leader that you don't have hope that he'll falter,'' said Phil Mickelson, who began and ended the final round four shots behind Woods, finishing third. "When other guys are up there, you know that if you can just stay around there, there's a good chance they

might come back two or three shots. But Tiger doesn't seem to ever do that.''

Woods is also in a league of his own when it comes to making the big shot at the right time.

"You know, you have to just kind of focus and bear down and you know those shots are crucial,'' Woods said.

Case in point. At the sixth hole Sunday, Woods sunk his chip from behind the green for a birdie to move to 13-under, extending his lead to four shots over Goosen.

"From there on, no one was really putting any pressure on him,'' Goosen said. "I think he was just cruising in.''

Cruising to a place that left even Earl Woods at a loss.

"All I can say is it's great,'' he said. "Just great.''

Rob Mueller is a sports reporter for the Augusta Chronicle.

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