Tiger the Master again after play-off victory over DiMarco

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tiger Woods was forced to look deeper inside himself than ever before last night as a supposed procession to his first major in three long years was turned into a neck-and-neck scramble by a written-off "journeyman" who just did not know when to depart The Masters scene. And what he found was the champion that the golfing world just prayed was still there.

Tiger Woods was forced to look deeper inside himself than ever before last night as a supposed procession to his first major in three long years was turned into a neck-and-neck scramble by a written-off "journeyman" who just did not know when to depart The Masters scene. And what he found was the champion that the golfing world just prayed was still there.

But boy did it take some finding, as quite an extraordinary day's sport was fanfared with a birdie on the first extra hole that blew the life out of Chris DiMarco, who up and until that cruel moment had not so much been a wriggling corpse as a fully-fledged flesh-eater whose purpose would not be interrupted.

If the game had said hello again to its most dominant hero, then it also welcomed a new favourite to its midst, to a New Yorker who somehow brushed himself down to do battle after earlier watching a four-shot lead reduced to nought in just 26 minutes.

Woods was nothing but awesome in that morning session as he completed the third round in that old, inexorable way of his that consigns his rivals to mere footnotes. Seven consecutive birdies from the seventh tied The Masters record, and at one stage the course-best 62 seemed nothing more than a birdieable formality. DiMarco was going backwards at a sickening rate of knots then, a double bogey on the 10th, as he resumed his round, coming minutes after seeing Woods put a six-iron to 10 feet.

Then another shot was dropped, and then another, until suddenly he was three behind Woods, who had bafflingly seen his charge halted with a couple of bogeys on the 14th and the 15th, but still looked home and dry for his first major in 11 attempts.

DiMarco thought differently, although his demeanour was not telling. Indeed, when Woods rolled in his eight-foot birdie at the first as the fourth round began, after a 325-drive drew a gasp that you are only supposed to hear at the bull-ring, DiMarco muttered "great putt".

And although his iron-play began to click into nervelessness in motion, his putter was still making it appear as though Woods had only to avoid a calamity. A few 10-footers went awry, as did a couple even shorter, and as they went to the turn, Woods's run of pars maintained his three-shot advantage. Then, all change. DiMarco's 35-foot putt across the 10th green made him believe in the powers of his straight-faced wand again. Tiger, meanwhile, had taken a bogey and was starting to look decidedly vulnerable. "Pig-sick" would have been a more accurate adjective when his playing partner stuck it stiff at the par-four 11th and now the lead was one. Surely Woods wouldn't lose it from here? To DiMarco? A nobody in relative terms?

It seemed not when DiMarco bogeyed the 12th and the gap remained at two as the holes ticked down. But not quickly enough for Tiger. His failure to birdie the 13th made him angry enough, but another DiMarco approach shot that scraped the hole made his supporters the shade of his trademark Sunday red shirt. It was one shot again, but only until one of those chip-ins that seem to fill golfing folklore, sent Tiger back two clear. As the ball hung tantalisingly on the edge of the 16th hole, DiMarco's brave challenge looked as precariously perched. It fell and so should have the 36-year-old.

But the new Tiger is not quite the unflappable Tiger of old and an ugly bogey down the 17th meant the narrowest margin walking down the final fairway. What fairway? Tiger went from rough to greenside bunker, from there to 10 feet and when he couldn't convert that, the unthinkable was possible DiMarco needed a four-footer to take it to sudden death.

He holed it. Well he would, wouldn't he? They marched back to the 18th as the sun descended and when DiMarco's approach rolled back down the slope guarding the green, the writing was carved in the blackening sky. He pitched it to that a matter of inches, but Woods had a 15-footer downhill and when the putt fell, the arms raised and the now nine-time major champion wore green once more.

"Chris gave me one hell of a fight," admitted Woods. Indeed, he did. An indication of how valiantly DiMarco had competed was the seven shots that stretched all the way back to the group in third. In truth, they were not even in the same banking district of the winning cheque, but Luke Donald will take so much from finishing up alongside the South African Retief Goosen - and not just another huge payday to go with his recent second at The Players Championship.

Indeed, if he can put to the one side the second-round 77 that blighted his week and instead focus on his 69, 69 finish, he will further confirm to himself that his graduation to the big time is in its latter stages. The 27-year-old might most wish to remember becoming only the 10th player ever to record eagles at the 13th and 15th, the latter coming when he chipped in at the par five for three.

David Howell should also look back with lung-swelling pride at his first Augusta appearance. The 29-year-old's 11th-place ensures he returns next year regardless of his world ranking, although the manner he which he responded to a third-round 76 - when he had the unenviable "honour" of playing with Woods - suggests his stock will only be rising.

At the start of the week he would have taken coming just one shot behind Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, that's for sure. That pair will swear that their "dust-up" in the Champions Locker room on Friday had nothing to with an unsatisfactory final round - Mickelson, a 74 as his defence faded in mediocrity, Singh a 73 as he saw his world No 1 status depart, perhaps for good - but as they stalked the fairways, not even consenting to look at each other after they was mischievously drawn together, it was impossible not to make some connection.

Or maybe it was the frustration of seeming the Big One back on his rightful stage. What did ever happen to golf's Fab Four?

Masters of the fairways

Leading major title winners

(US unless otherwise stated)

18 Jack Nicklaus

11 Walter Hagen

9 Ben Hogan, Gary Player (SA), Tiger Woods

8 Tom Watson

7 Bobby Jones, Harry Vardon (GB), Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer

6 Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo (GB)

Comments