- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2001

AUGUSTA, Ga. The Augusta Natural has now authored golf's grandest achievement.

Tiger Woods won an incomparable fourth consecutive professional major championship yesterday at Augusta National, carding a final-round 68 to finish at 16-under 272 and claim the 65th Masters by two strokes over David Duval.

"It's very special," said Woods, who surpassed the three straight Slam uprisings of Ben Hogan (1953) with the victory. "When I won here in '97, I was so young that I didn't really understand what I had accomplished. But I've been through the wars a little over the last few years since then, and I know how difficult it is to win a major championship. To win four of them in succession… . It's hard to believe, really."

The 25-year-old Woods punctuated the victory, his sixth overall in golf's coveted quartet, with a 15-foot birdie putt on the event's 72nd hole and then struggled to hold back tears as the realization of what he had accomplished dawned on him. Because the moment might have been expected from the 5-4 favorite, but it was still absolutely epic.

"I started losing it a little bit," Woods said. "I've won a lot of golf tournaments. I've had some very special things happen to me in my career like winning six straight U.S. Junior Amateurs and U.S. Amateurs. But if you look at my career, I don't think I've ever done anything this great."

There's an obvious reason for that; nobody in golf's storied history has ever done anything that can truly compare

"I think a lot of it, what happens as a player, and I have experienced it to an extent, is you feel like you become invincible, unbeatable out there," said Duval, when asked to describe how Woods has dominated the game since last season's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. "I equate it with walking out there, and you have a bit of swagger. I don't mean it in a bad way. It's a good thing. You know what you're doing, and you've got it, and it's like you say, 'Come and get it boys, if you think you've got enough on you.' "

Yesterday, both Phil Mickelson (13 under), who began the day at 11 under one behind Woods, and Duval tried to mount attacks on the titan. But neither player could muster the incredible combination of execution and resolve it takes to bring down golf's biggest game.

Midway through the front nine, the trio was briefly locked in a leader board heat for the ages when Duval jarred a 16-footer for birdie at No. 7 to join the day's final pair (then on the sixth green) at 12 under.

But Mickelson, paired with Woods in weekend competition for the first time, stumbled with a short-range par miss at the sixth and spent the rest of the round fruitlessly trying to claw even with Woods. The 30-year-old lefty fired a competent final-round 70, but had few legitimate birdie opportunities on the back nine and saw his hopes for a first major title vanish with a 3-putt bogey at the par-3, 16th.

"That was a killer," said Mickleson, who was just one stroke behind Woods when he pulled his 7-iron 40 feet right of the pin on the water-guarded 180-yard hole and left himself an impossibly slick first putt that resulted in an ill-fated 7-footer for par. "To pull [the approach] up on top, the one place I can't hit it, the one place I didn't even give myself a putt at it… . That was the swing that hurt me the most today."

Like Mickelson, Duval lost touch with Tiger at the 16th. The 29-year-old former world No. 1, who started the day three back at 9 under but shot a sterling front-nine 32 to surge into contention, came to the hole locked atop the board with Woods at 15 under. But disaster for Duval, playing just ahead of Woods and Mickelson, made its first appearance when he rifled his 7-iron over the back of the green.

"I hit a golf shot today that might be the best shot I've ever hit, and I made a four out of it on No. 16," said Duval, who chipped to the identical place from where Mickelson would miss his par putt and missed. "I don't have an explanation for it. I had 183 yards to the flag, and I hit 7-iron and flew it over the green. To be honest with you, I thought I might have made a one. You don't fly it 190-something yards over the green like I did."

Duval then completed his demise with his short stick. He pulled birdie putts from 14 feet and five feet on the final two holes either of which would have put possible playoff pressure on Woods down the stretch.

"I've been here before, huh?" said a dejected Duval after a closing 67 on the 6,985-yard, par-72 layout yielded his fourth straight top-6 finish at the Masters. "I've been in this position a few times. I got beat by Mark [O'Meara in 1998], and a couple of other times I may have very well beat myself, but I didn't do that today. I just came up short."

Meanwhile, Woods was busy doing what he has spent a lifetime grooming himself to do, accumulating clutch par-saving putts (Nos. 9 and 10) and point-blank birdies (Nos. 7, 8, 11 and 13) to offset miscues at Nos. 12 and 15. Woods gathered himself after a potentially costly three-putt par at No. 15, posted the par at No. 16 that neither Duval nor Mickleson could manage. Woods then nearly holed a birdie chip on No. 17 and then played the 18th with a one-shot lead like a rotweiler locked on a ribeye; 330-yard drive 75-yard lob wedge 15-footer for the history books.

"The enjoyment is going out there and working for it, and grinding it out and going toe-to-toe with two of the best players in the world," said Woods, who went on to explain his tears at the end. "I've never had that feeling before, because I guess I was so attuned to each and every shot, that when [the putt went in on No. 18], I finally realized I had no more to play. That's it. I'm done. My emotions started coming out, and I started reflecting on some of the shots I had hit, some of the big putts… . It was a long hard day out there. That is work, but that's what it's all about."

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