- The Washington Times - Monday, April 15, 2002

AUGUSTA, Ga. No contest.
It's a good thing Augusta National finally allowed CBS to provide extensive coverage of the front nine this year. By the time the final pairing of the 66th Masters reached the normally pivotal back nine yesterday, Tiger Woods already had one arm in his third green jacket.
Carding a final-round 71 that was more cerebral than spectacular, Woods dispatched his challengers before he reached the turn, coasting to his second consecutive Masters victory.
"It's awfully special," said the 26-year-old Woods, who finished at 12-under-par 276, three strokes ahead of runner-up Retief Goosen. "For some reason, this one seemed to be a little bit harder than the other ones. It's just been a long week with all the weather delays and all the bad weather."
Woods became just the third back-to-back winner at the Masters, joining Jack Nicklaus (1965-66) and Nick Faldo (1989-90) in the exclusive club. The win also gave Woods his seventh victory in the Grand Slams, pushing him into a tie for sixth on the all-time list and putting him closer to his ultimate goal of surpassing the legendary Nicklaus and his 18 major titles. Nicklaus also completed his back-to-back Masters wins at age 26, collecting his fifth major title at the 1966 Masters.
Unlike Nicklaus, however, Woods didn't face much resistance on the way to his Masters double.
In 1997, Woods blitzed the field in record-setting fashion, shattering virtually every tournament record with his 18-under total of 270. Last year, Woods had to fend off spirited back-nine charges from Phil Mickelson and David Duval. And yesterday, the world expected a similar fight for the coveted coat with five of the top seven players in the world clustered around him on the leader board entering the final round.
But that challenge never materialized, as one by one, Goosen, Mickelson (8 under), Ernie Els (6 under), Vijay Singh (5 under) and Sergio Garcia (4 under) stumbled instead of surging.
Woods entered the day tied at the top of the board with Goosen at 11-under. But Goosen, the reigning U.S. Open champion, lost his platinum putting stroke on the front nine, dropping strokes with three-putts at Nos. 1 and 4. Woods, meanwhile, overwhelmed a lone front-nine bogey with birdies at Nos. 2, 3 and 6, taking complete command of the tournament when he chipped in at the sixth to reach 13 under, suddenly three strokes clear of his closest competitor.
Pressing to cut into that margin on the treacherous 7,270-yard layout, the rest of Woods' primary challengers imploded on the back nine. Singh and Els started the day two and four strokes behind the leader, respectively. Both attacked the course in search of birdies and eventually fell prey to that aggressive approach on the back-nine par-5s.
Els, the two-time U.S. Open champion, saw his slim chances vanish when he deposited two balls into the creek on No. 13, carding an ugly triple-bogey that sent him spiraling back to 6 under. Singh, who donned the green jacket in 2000, experienced his contention-crushing moment at No. 15, also drowning two balls on the way to a ghastly quadruple-bogey that slapped him back to 4 under.
And though neither Mickelson nor Garcia suffered such a dramatic demise, both started the day at 7 under and spent the afternoon skirting the hole in futile fashion before succumbing.
"The Sunday pin positions here are extremely difficult," said Mickelson, who closed with a 71 to finish within striking distance of the victor for a fourth consecutive year. "If you're just a fraction off, you're going to get severely penalized. But once Tiger jumped out in front of us, we all had to take those chances to try and make a run at him. When you take chances around here, you bring big numbers into the equation, and I think that's why you saw guys making some double- and triple-bogeys out there."
With his challengers folding around him, Woods spent the final 12 holes playing extremely conservative golf, protecting his lead by always taking the safest route from tee to pin.
"I always watch the leader boards, so I saw that some of the other guys were struggling," Woods said. "Obviously, that changes the way you approach things when you have a lead. My goal was to stay as patient as possible, not make any mistakes and play the round under par. Eventually, I was able to outlast the guys."

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