Augusta, Ga. — Hope hid behind the cathedral of pines. Anticipation swarmed like the faithful Masters galleries across Augusta National’s rolling hills. Excitement swept like the cold north winds that gusted and swirled among the trees Sunday in a spiteful game of hide and seek.
And history? It’s still waiting along with the rest of us. Tiger Woods didn’t make history Sunday. He didn’t write a new chapter about coming from behind to win a major championship for the first time. His charge never materialized. Contrary to rampant speculation among the media, there will be no Grand Slam this year. If you were waiting for Tiger to win his fifth Masters, you might as well be waiting for Godot.
Trevor Immelman captured this Masters and did it fairly easily, heading to the home stretch with a six-shot lead over the closing holes. Even after an ugly double bogey at the 16th hole, he could still afford a bogey-bogey finish. He parred in and won by three.
Woods made a 72nd-hole birdie that lifted him to second place. Tiger’s day was summed up in that moment on the final green. After a day of missing nearly every putt that mattered, he rolled in a birdie putt that didn’t matter at all. Woods gave it a disgusted wave, as if he were swatting away an offensive insect. Tiger will not be mocked, not even by a birdie putt.
This is the year Woods was supposed to win the Grand Slam. He has been on such a dominant run that it is almost shocking when he doesn’t win. On Sunday, he never made so much as a move on an inexperienced pack of Masters challengers. As it turned out, a round of 69 would’ve tied Immelman. Woods shot a frustrating 72. His entire week was frustrating, as a matter of fact.
This Masters was there for the taking and Woods wasn’t able to take it. Stewart Cink, who tied for third, was paired with Woods in the final round.
“He still has his dramatic flair,” Cink said. “It’s amazing, he goes from kind of struggling after a pretty haphazard bogey from the middle of the 10th fairway, and makes that long putt on 11 and all of a sudden, he looks like there’s no way he’s going to lose. You can see it. It’s like an aura around him. You can feel that he thinks he’s going to win. Then he takes it right at the flag on 12. You think, gosh, he’s going to birdie every hole from here on out.
“But he just didn’t. That’s the way Augusta National is. He hit a lot of good shots, but good shots don’t always end up close here.”
This one should bother Woods for a while. It is his third runner-up finish in the last five major championships, and this one, much more than the others, could easily have been a victory. Something simply wasn’t right. It was his putting.
“I didn’t putt well all week,” Woods said after Sunday’s round. “I kept dragging the blade. I wasn’t releasing it, wasn’t getting the overspin like I normally do. Out here, if you’re not starting the ball perfectly on line, you’re not going to make any putts. I tried to get it going, tried to hook my putts, anything to get the thing rolling properly. I just didn’t quite have it this week.”
It showed. You could start with his third-round 68. He played beautifully but had a number of putts burn the edges of the hole. It could’ve easily been 63 or 64 if he’d had a hot putter. Sunday, it was more of the same. When he needed to make a move early to apply a little pressure on Immelman and the rest, he didn’t.
He hit into an awkward lie in the front bunker on the par-5 second hole and didn’t make birdie. He played a superb bunker shot from in front of the fourth green but lipped out the four-foot par putt. Woods made a bad swing at the 10th, dumping his approach into a bad spot in the right bunker, which led to another bogey.
Then came a stroke of genius that might still have been the start of something big. Woods played first from the 11th fairway and hit a 6-iron that barely got on the front of the green, leaving him a monster putt of 70 feet. Woods holed the putt, drawing perhaps the day’s loudest roar. He was so fired up, his hopes rekindled, that he actually doffed his cap, a rare move by him. The birdie drew him to within five strokes of Immelman’s lead.
“Playing with Tiger on Sunday at the Masters is about the pinnacle of professional golf,” Cink said. “It was exciting out there. Tiger made about a 50 foot tap in on 11 to get things stirred up.”
And then, nothing. Woods parred 12 and blocked his tee shot into the trees on the right at 13. He played a low slicing iron shot out of the pine straw, coming perilously close to hitting a tree in front of him. It was a shot that was a lot more difficult than it may have looked on TV. Having laid up perfectly, Woods spun a sand wedge shot off the slope behind the pin. His ball nearly hit the cup as it trickled past. Left with a four-footer for birdie that would have sent a tidal wave of anxiety in Immelman’s direction, Woods missed and walked off the green muttering to himself.
Another mistake followed at 14, where he lost his approach shot to the right, which meant it rolled down into a swale — exactly the place he didn’t want to be — and faced a very difficult two-putt. He missed a 10-footer for par and was on the ropes.
“I was surprised at 13; I thought he would make that,” Cink said. “And the 14th was very surprising.”
He missed the green right and long at the par-5 15th and had little chance of getting that pitch close. He missed a 20-footer for birdie. That probably closed the door, but even if it didn’t, his badly missed five-footer for birdie at the 16th finished him off.
“We weren’t really trying to win the Masters on the last few holes,” Cink said. “We were trying to beat each other, and he one-upped me.”
Woods has bounced back from disappointments before. Last year’s Masters and U.S. Open come to mind. He won the PGA Championship at Southern Hills and then pretty much everything in sight since. His winning streak came to an end at Doral.
To the surprise of many, Woods didn’t start a new streak at Augusta, and now Immelman can claim a major title in the Tiger Era.
“It’s like trying to breathe air at the top of Mount Everest,” Cink said of beating Tiger. “There’s just not a whole lot of oxygen left over.”
History waited this time. Next stop — Torrey Pines and the U.S. Open in June.