The par-3 16th hole proved monumental. DiMarco left himself an 18-footer for birdie while Woods jacked his eight-iron long and left of the green, leaving himself little green to get to a tucked pin. His only play was to throw his pitch onto the frighteningly fast slope high above the hole and hope the ball funneled close enough to leave a realistic chance at par. As Woods's caddie, Steve Williams, said later, "We were just trying to escape with a three."
Woods picked his chip beautifully from an awkward lie against the second cut of rough, and the ball skipped onto the green, made a hard right turn and began inching down the slope, breaking toward the cup. The ball stopped on the precipice of the hole and after a beat or two tumbled in for a birdie. Woods's play-by-play: "All of a sudden it looked pretty good. And all of a sudden it looked really good. And then it looked like how could it not go in, and how did it not go in, and all of a sudden it went in. So it was pretty sweet."
Added DiMarco, "You expect the unexpected, and unfortunately it's not unexpected when he's doing it."
Now up by two, Woods gave a shot right back by driving into the trees on 17 and making bogey, setting the stage for the drama on the 18th hole and the ensuing playoff. After Woods had at last vanquished DiMarco, he rushed to the back of the 18th green where his mom, Tida, got the first hug, as usual, and then he planted a long, sloppy smooch on Elin. Noticeably absent among the delirium was Woods's father, Earl. A series of health problems has curtailed Earl's travel in recent years, and now he's battling cancer that began in his prostate but has spread aggressively. He rallied to make the trip to Augusta, but he was not up to navigating the crowds at the course, choosing instead to watch the tournament on TV at a rented house. In an emotional speech at the green jacket ceremony, Tiger dedicated the victory to Earl.
this palpable love between father and son brought the tournament full circle, because over the first two rounds the Nicklaus family had provided the emotional center. Jack had said last year that 2004 might be his last Masters, but his semigoodbye was overshadowed by Arnold Palmer's farewell. Nicklaus already was pondering whether to return this year when a family tragedy propelled him back to Augusta. On March 1 his 17-month-old grandson, Jake, drowned in a hot tub, and Jack and his grieving son Steve withdrew to the place where they are most comfortable showing their feelings, the golf course. A by-product of these 18-hole therapy sessions was that the old man felt his game coming back, and when Steve suggested that one more Masters would be a good diversion for the Nicklaus clan, Jack was happy to oblige.
On a layout that has grown much too long for a 65-year-old, Nicklaus shot a very respectable 77-76 and thrilled the crowd by stiffing a six-iron on his last hole on Saturday. Tears streamed down the great man's face as he took the final steps of his 45-year journey at Augusta.
Nicklaus will be at St. Andrews in July for another final hurrah on the Old Course, where he won two British Opens. Woods, too, will have good vibes when he arrives at the home of golf. At the 2000 British Open he lapped the field, winning by eight strokes, setting a tournament scoring record (19 under) and failing to hit into a single bunker over 72 holes. Woods will be the prohibitive favorite, and he can arrive with Grand Slam dreams if he first prevails in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, where he tied for third in 1999. With its turtleback greens, No. 2 is a shotmaker's delight that puts a premium on a creative short game. Sounds a bit like Augusta National, no?
On Sunday evening Woods deflected talk of a Grand Slam run. His mind was elsewhere. At the green jacket ceremony he told a hushed crowd, "This win is not for me, it's for my dad. It's been a difficult year, he's not doing very well. He made the trek to Augusta, but he was unable to come out and enjoy this." He stopped to gather himself.
"This is for Dad," Woods said, and now the tears were coming fast and furious, and he was gasping for breath. "Every year I've been lucky enough to win this tournament, my dad has been there to give me a hug. I can't wait to get back to the house and give him a big bear hug."
This was the logical end to a topsy-turvy day. After nearly giving away the Masters, Woods couldn't help but grin on the 72nd green. Now, in victory, he was crying when he should have been smiling again.