Golf: Close to perfection: Six key witnesses to the wonder of Woods tell their Augusta stories

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The Independent Online
Nick Faldo

First-round partner

When Faldo, the defending champion and a three-Green- Jacket man, was paired with Woods, three times the United States amateur champion, for the first day, he said: "There's going to be a lot of razzmatazz. You're not going to be able to have a little battle for 18 holes. It's going to be the full show, lights, action and everything. So you're going to have to be switched on for it." But Faldo's putting was well and truly off, and he got left behind as Woods came home in 30 blows to beat his 75 by five shots. The following day, Faldo shot an 81 and missed the cut "flabbergasted" and "shell-shocked". At the beginning of the year Faldo said Woods had "only been around for five minutes". After the final round of the Players' Championship, questioned about Woods, Faldo said: "If that's all you need to know about me, I'm not talking about him." On BBC TV, Faldo was less than effusive in his praise. After slipping the Green Jacket on Woods, Faldo said: "He's at the front of the ship right now, but we'll have to see how the rest of the year goes. Who knows how he'll hit it later on?"

Paul Azinger

Second-round partner

Azinger, who returned to the tour two years ago after being treated for cancer in his shoulder, played with Woods for the first time on the Friday after his opening 69. "When he hit his drive on No 2, I said 'Wow'," Azinger recalled. "Tiger didn't shock me, I expected him to be as good as he was." Woods took a three-shot lead after the second round with a six-under-par 66. "He hit some courageous shots and he made only one mistake, a bad approach to the 17th," Azinger added. "The fact that he is able to go out at Augusta with all the hype and play like that is impressive." Azinger shot a 73 playing with Woods, then 77, 74 over the weekend to fall out of the leading placings and finish tied for 28th. He gave some of the credit for Woods' performance to his veteran caddie, Mike Cowan. "Having 'Fluff' as his caddie has taken Tiger to another level. As good as Tiger was in college, he was carrying his own bag. 'Fluff' is fantastic. Just having that steady force, somebody who absolutely knows your swing and is able to give you a second opinion, that makes a big difference."

Colin Montgomerie

Third-round partner

After rounds of 72 and 67, Montgomerie was lying in second place. "I've got a lot more experience in major championship golf than he has, and hopefully I can prove that. It's one thing having it, another proving it," he said. In Saturday's third round, Woods outscored Monty, 65 to 74. Having overcome his inferiority complex over Augusta National on the first two days, seeing at first hand how Woods demolished it with such ease was the last thing the Scot needed. That evening he handed Woods the title, delivering his own punchy soundbite: "Faldo is not lying second and Greg Norman is not Tiger Woods." He added: "I appreciated he hit the ball long and straight, and I appreciated his iron shots were very accurate. I did not appreciate how he putted." Like Faldo before him, Monty crashed to an 81 in the next round and finished joint 30th. "When I four-putted the 10th, I was finished mentally. I was embarrassed and very down. I had a plane ticket to fly home, but I didn't want to leave America with an 81. I just cannot get to grips with Augusta."

Costantino Rocca

Fourth-round partner

Rocca got a touch of the Woods going on Saturday afternoon, playing the last eight holes in six under to be the man closest to the leader's record 54-hole lead of nine strokes. The Italian's best showing at Augusta had come with steady rounds of 71, 69 and 70. "The greens were playing very difficult but I was hitting the ball well," Rocca said. The pair had played together once before, at the US Open. "His shots to the green are much better now," Rocca said. "At the US Open he tried to hit the ball hard on every shot. Now, he has the ability to punch some shots, especially with the wind." Rocca did not think he would win last Sunday. "It was too far. Maybe if you had only taken my score for nine holes, and I would have to have been under par, too." The Italian matched the American's level par 36 to the turn, but where the champion made three birdies coming home, Rocca made three bogeys which dropped him to a share of fifth place with Paul Stankowski. "Tiger Woods is a very great player," Rocca said. "If he stays like this, he's the No 1 and will win many tournaments."

Mike Cowan

Tiger Woods' caddie

Cowan, known as "Fluff" on tour, gives Woods the experience he lacks. At 49, he has been on tour for 20 years and was the long-time caddie of Peter Jacobsen. But Jacobsen, who like Woods is sponsored by Nike, was sidelined with a back injury last autumn and Cowan filled in when Woods turned professional. Soon Cowan decided to make the switch permanent. He explained: "After watching for him for three or fours weeks, I thought: 'God, I want to watch this happen.' I wanted to see it at first hand. I wanted to be the guy right there beside him, watch him making every shot." And so it came to pass at Augusta, where tour caddies could not work for their employers until 1983. "It was awesome," Cowan said. "It feels wonderful to have won here at Augusta. I've been here a lot of times, but I truly have never been close to winning. I don't know what word to use. It feels wonderful. I was not amazed. I believe that he is as good as he showed everyone last week. Tiger is a great player. He showed the world how good he is. I'm not amazed. I believe."

Phil Knight

The man from Nike

Knight, the founder and chairman of Nike, was among the gallery for the last three days trying to get a glimpse of Woods as his latest client fulfilled his date with destiny. "I've never seen anything like this on a golf course," Knight said. "This is a greater number than Arnie's Army at its peak." Nike signed up Woods when he turned pro last August in a deal worth around $40m (pounds 25m). "One analyst said we overpaid. I wonder what they're thinking now. At Nike, we expected Tiger to be good, but we didn't expect this kind of domination this early. It isn't just that he led the field, but the way he makes such dramatic shots. I think the only guy who thought maybe this was going to happen was his father, Earl." Woods is not Nike's biggest client, that is Michael Jordan, who has had many telephone conversations with Woods discussing matters such as handling all the attention. Said Knight: "They're unique and different, but the closest comparison you can make to Tiger Woods is Michael Jordan. It's nice to be along for the ride with both of them."