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Killer Instinct

Tiger Woods, 2002 Masters

This story on Tiger Woods' win at the 2002 Masters first appeared in the April 22, 2002 issue of Sports Illustrated.

There never has been, never will be, a killer like Tiger Woods. Not then, not now, not ever. The boy is a man now, and the man is as unstoppable as winter. He has all the empathy of a Luger. His mind is a lockbox, his will a Russian tank. He is a finisher, in the manner of Luca Brasi or Babyface Nelson. He is the kind of man who buries you, then comes to your grave on your birthday and kicks over your tombstone.

He proved it again on Sunday in the formerly innocent little town of Augusta. One hundred years after Bobby Jones was born, on the occasion of Arnold Palmer's last Masters, Tiger Woods methodically unscrewed a brilliant leader board -- his final numbers were 70-69-66-71 for a 12-under 276 -- to win his third green jacket, which he takes now, proudly, and hides in the deepest part of his closet.

"I mean, it's not like you're going to walk around with this thing on, are you?" he said, looking at it with distaste.

That's him. He doesn't really want it for himself. He just wants to take it from you.

After his second straight Masters win Woods now has seven majors, and he's still only 26. Nobody's gotten to seven this fast, but that's not the brain-bending part. The brain-bending part is that he still doesn't have a second-place finish in a major. Jack Nicklaus had six seconds by now. If Woods finished second in a major, the top of his head might explode. Hit men don't do second. He gets ahold of your neck, he doesn't let go until you're a throw rug.

He has won dramatically. He has won artistically. But this one should've been directed by Hitchcock. I Know What You Did Last April. They moved nine of the 18 tee boxes back to Aiken, S.C., and they planted 50-year-old trees where none had been before, and they even made the joint smell like a cross between Gary, Ind., and a 4-H fair. It poured rain on him, and they made him play 26 holes in one day and gave him a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call. They even threw the very best in the world at him: Numbers 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 on the World Ranking list -- at once! -- and they all went home in boxes.

Take Phil Mickelson (No. 2 in the world). He seemed to have his mind right. He's been reading Stephen Hawking books on quantum physics. One night last month he sat up in bed and exclaimed to his wife, Amy, "Do you realize how small we are?" He even had New Age spiritualist Deepak Chopra in his camp. And when Mickelson birdied the first two holes out of bunkers in the final round, it looked as if enlightenment would be his. Then he bogeyed the next two while Tiger birdied two of his first three.

As Mickelson waited to hit on the 8th tee, a thunderclap of a roar went up for Tiger's chip-in birdie at number 6. All the love for the universe drained out of Mickelson's face. Poor bastard. His parents had the gall to beget him in the era of Tiger Woods.

Or take Retief Goosen (No. 4 in the world). Hottest player on the planet coming in. Winner of six of his last 24 starts. Even had his sports psychologist with him, Jos Vanstiphout. Came to the course on Sunday morning tied for the lead and promptly got stomped flatter than pita bread. If it had been match play, Tiger would've been 4 up after four holes. Goosen wound up three back in second place. Said the shrink, "If Retief was playing to full capacity, he would have beaten Tiger by 50 shots." Riggggght.

Goosen didn't seem to believe it. He looked like a man who'd been run over by a bus and was just glad to be alive. "Do I get the green pants for finishing second?" he asked.

Or take Ernie Els (third in the world). He started four back, and Tiger never let him get much closer than that. Tired of waiting for Tiger to make a mistake, Els decided to make his own, playing the famous par-5 13th with an oar and flippers to wind up with an 8. Or take Sergio García (fifth in the world). He's supposed to step up one of these days to challenge Tiger, but instead he stepped back, with a wimpy 75. Or take Vijay Singh (seventh in the world). Trailing by four with four to play, he rinsed two thirds of a sleeve into the pond in front of the par-5 15th -- two out-and-out 18-handicap chunks, by the way -- on his way to a 9, to put his hopes in a slingh.

"I don't care what any of these guys say about not looking at him or not noticing what he's doing," mused Tiger's father, Earl, afterward outside the Butler Cabin. "Tiger intimidates through osmosis. You feel it. It freaks people out."

The whole week kind of did that. Sam Snead hit the ceremonial first drive of the tournament straight into the spectacles of a spectator. And yet CBS announcer Jim Nantz didn't mention a word about it in recapping the shot on Saturday. Then again, being a Masters announcer on CBS is like writing for the Baghdad Bugle. One negative word, and you're hanging upside down by your toenails.

Nor was there a single word from CBS about the week's odor, which had the unmistakable aroma of Eau d' Oink. It smelled like Grade C manure, though an Augusta National spokesman insisted the rain had simply dredged up naturally decaying grass. Riiiiiight. So why was it that Nick Faldo turned to Davis Love III as they played on Sunday and said, "Somebody brought their pet cow"?

And the mud. There was mud everywhere. Mud on the balls and mud on the IMG agents' $600 Italian loafers and mud on the steep hills, which made for great fun watching proper Southern belles in print dresses go sliding rump-down through the muck and slime and then get up, laughing liltingly and twittering, "Well, ahh nevah!"

Then there was the mudslinging from an Augusta National member himself: Lloyd Ward, a USOC executive. Ward, who happens to be black, told USA Today it was high time the Old Coots Club took in some female members. The club had no official comment, but the mind spun at what changes that might bring.

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