Golf: The Masters: Sublime Woods the Master for new generation

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The Independent Online
Taking huge catlike strides, and stepping in the Bearprints of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods waltzed to his coronation as the new greatest golfer in the game among the cathedral pines of Augusta National yesterday. Lee Elder, the first African-American to play in the US Masters 22 years ago, was present to witness the occasion as a special guest of the club. "I came to see history," Elder said.

Elder was not disappointed. Woods, joining Jerry Pate as the only men to win their first major as a pro this century, completed his day of destiny as the first Afro-Asian golfer to be coated in a Green Jacket. He did so with a breathtaking 12-stroke victory, only one outside the record winning margin in any major championship of 13 shots by Old Tom Morris at the Open in 1862.

In fact, Woods has rewritten the Augusta record book. Having set the biggest 54-hole lead and tied the record score after three rounds, Woods, just three months and 15 days past his 21st birthday, became the youngest- ever winner and did so by setting a new record winning margin and with a new low score of 270, an aggregate of 18 under thanks to his four-foot par-saver at the last. Then, almost overcome, Woods fell into the arms of his parents.

Where he had been stunningly aggressive over the first three days, Woods contended with a strong breeze and recovered from two early dropped shots to record a closing 69. Birdies at the 11th, 13th and 14th saw him put even more distance between himself and Tom Kite, the US Ryder Cup captain, who was second at six under. Tommy Tolles, after a 67, was third at five under with Tom Watson one further back, while Costantino Rocca had bogeys at the last two holes to tie for fifth.

Nicklaus, who won six Green Jackets, saw this coming. A year ago, after witnessing the combination of power and precision that the then amateur could bring to Bobby Jones's masterpiece, he predicted that Woods would "be the favourite here for the next 20 years" and that he would "win more jackets than me and Arnold put together".

Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus won 10 Masters between them. "It is not my time any more, it's his," Nicklaus said. "Tiger is out there playing another game. He is playing a golf course he will own for a long time. This young man will win many more Masters." Only Horton Smith in 1934, Gene Sarazen in 1935 and Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 have won on their first outing at Augusta.

It took Byron Nelson three attempts, like Woods, to win the Masters; Palmer, Watson and Seve Ballesteros four each; Player and Nicklaus, although in his second as a professional, five tries; Nick Faldo, who had to stay around for the weekend to present the 42 long Green Jacket to Woods after missing the cut, six; and Ben Hogan and Sam Snead 10 apiece.

In an era when the general standard of play and the difficulty of a top player separating himself from the rest of the field is supposedly greater than ever before, Woods has blown away the best in the world. The extent to which he has overpowered one of the most strategic courses in golf suggests it should be renamed Woods World.

Although it is his length off the tee that distinguishes him from the others, it is his silky touch on his short game and putting which allows him to capitalise on it. For 49 holes, from the 10th on Thursday to the fourth yesterday, he had only one bogey.

Woods will only be one member of the American Ryder Cup team at Valderrama in September, but before then he could have destroyed most of the European team. He did for Nick Faldo on Thursday in such a way that you wonder if the six-times major champion will ever be quite the same again. On Saturday, Woods outscored Colin Montgomerie by six shots on the front nine alone. Yesterday, Montgomerie again suffered when he went to the turn in 39, then took four putts on the 10th for a double-bogey, bogeyed the next three and finished with an 81.

Montgomerie has been at the business end of major championships before, but he has yet to win one. He has said he would rather be tagged the best player in the world not to have won a major, than the second best player in the world not to have won a major. Now everyone in that list can move up a slot.

Rocca, along with Montgomerie, has now virtually assured himself of a place in the European team. Although the first prize of $486,000 (pounds 304,000) was out of reach, the considerable prize-money on offer down the field meant a chance to pick up plenty of Ryder Cup points. Bernhard Langer took up that opportunity, wielding his broomhandle putter to good effect to return a 68 which left him at two under par.

Like Jose Maria Olazabal, who has been hampered far more by his putting than his feet this week and ended one under, Langer was well outside the top 10 automatic spots on the Cup points table. The European captain, Seve Ballesteros, who only has two wild card picks available, will be pleased with their performances.

Lee Westwood, on his Augusta debut, shot a 70 to find himself a place among the top 24 finishers and ensure a return trip next year. "I was desperate to come back next year and I was really grinding hard," said the 23-year-old from Worksop, who played the back nine in 33. Westwood played the final round with Nicklaus, whose sixth victory in 1986 was an inspiration to him, and having signed his card, he obtained the Bear's autograph after the round.

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT AT AUGUSTA

Tiger Woods' victory in this year's Masters set the following records

Lowest score

270 Tiger Woods 1997

271 Jack Nicklaus 1965

271 Ray Floyd 1976

Largest margins of victory

12 Tiger Woods 1997

9 Jack Nicklaus 1965

8 Raymond Floyd 1976

7 Cary Middlecoff 1955

6 Arnold Palmer 1964

Youngest winner

21 Tiger Woods 1997

23 Jack Nicklaus 1963 23 Seve Ballesteros 1980

EARLY FOURTH-ROUND SCORES

(US unless stated)

270

T Woods 70 66 65 69

282

T Kite 77 69 66 70

283

T Tolles 72 72 72 67

284

T Watson 75 68 69 72

285

P Stankowski 68 74 69 74

C Rocca (It) 71 69 70 75

286

B Langer (Ger) 72 72 74 68

J Leonard 76 69 71 70

F Couples 72 69 73 72

D Love 72 71 72 71

J Sluman 74 67 72 73

287

S Elkington (Aus)

76 72 72 67

W Wood 72 76 71 68

P-U Johansson (Swe)

72 73 73 69

T Lehman 73 76 69 69

J M Olazabal (Sp)

71 70 74 72

288

M Calcavecchia

74 73 72 69

V Singh (Fiji) 75 74 69 70

F Funk 73 74 69 72

E Els (SA) 73 70 71 74

289

J Huston 67 77 75 70

S Appleby (Aus)

72 76 70 71

J Parnevik (Swe)

73 72 71 73

291

L Westwood (GB)

77 71 73 70

N Price (Zim) 71 71 75 74

292

C Stadler 77 72 71 72

L Janzen 72 73 74 73

293

J Furyk 74 75 72 72

P Azinger 69 73 77 74

294

L Mize 79 69 74 72

M O'Meara 75 74 70 75

S McCarron 77 71 72 74

C Montgomerie (GB)

72 67 74 81

295

S Lyle (GB) 73 73 74 75

F Zoeller 75 73 69 78

296

D Waldorf 74 75 72 75

297

D Frost (SA) 74 71 73 79

298

S Hoch 79 68 73 78

299

J Nicklaus 77 70 74 78

S Torrance (GB

) 75 73 73 78

I Woosnam (GB)

77 68 75 79

300

M Ozaki (Japan) 74 74 74 78

301

C Pavin 75 74 78 74

C Rose 73 75 79 74

302

B Crenshaw 75 73 74 80

303

F Nobilo (NZ) 76 72 74 81

* denotes amateur

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