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Tiger Woods emerges from tight leaderboard to win Masters

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Tiger Woods emerges from tight leaderboard to win Masters

    Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin

    AUGUSTA, Ga. – The final result alone guarantees that the 2019 Masters will be remembered as one of the greatest in history. The name atop the leaderboard is enough to ensure this tournament’s place in the game’s lore.

    But to focus only on Tiger Woods’ win, and not the manner in which he did it, would be to lose sight of a tournament that felt like a classic regardless of the champion. Augusta National’s famous back nine delivered once again. A tightly-packed leaderboard on Alister Mackenzie’s masterpiece was a recipe for excitement. Double-bogeys and eagles are both one swing away on Augusta National’s final nine, and that was the case Sunday.

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    Five players shared the lead when the final group was in the 15th fairway. That’s when Woods delivered the shots that defined this year’s Masters. There may not be a more dangerous shot in the Masters than the second one on 15, but Woods hit the green from 234 yards. He two-putted for his first solo lead, then padded his advantage by nearly acing the next hole. It wasn’t until he flagged his approach to 17 that the conclusion seemed certain.

    “There were so many different scenarios that could have transpired today,” Woods said. “You couldn’t have had more drama than what we all had out there.

    “Now you know why I’m balding. This stuff is hard.”

    The roars reverberated through the pines of the back nine, and they weren’t just for Woods. There were eagles and water balls and everything in between.

    Woods’ 15th major – the first one he won when not staring Sunday with the lead – was hard-earned. He finished one shot ahead of a star-studded trio: Dustin Johnson (68), Brooks Koepka (70) and Xander Schauffele (70). That’s two former World No. 1s and major champions, as well as a player who’s won twice this season. Those are three players known for standing out in golf’s biggest events. Four more players – Jason Day, Webb Simpson, Tony Finau and 54-hole leader Francesco Molinari – finished two shots back.

    Koepka, who held off Woods in last year’s PGA Championship at Bellerive, called it “the coolest back nine in a major championship that I’ve been a part of.” That’s a strong statement from a player who’s won three of them.

    Schauffele took solace in being part of history.

    “It’s hard to feel bad about how I played because I just witnessed history,” he said. This was his second runner-up in his past three majors, and his fourth top-6 finish in eight career majors. He also finished runner-up in the 2017 PLAYERS.

    Woods used steady play to finish atop a leaderboard that fluctuated wildly over the final holes. It was a throwback to Woods’ prime, when he would pick his spots while waiting for others to make mistakes.

    Players had been taking advantage of a rain-softened Augusta National all week – including a record-breaking Satuday – but Woods needed just a 2-under 70 on Sunday to overcome the two-shot deficit that he was staring at starting Sunday.

    Molinari was still two ahead when they reached the tee of No. 12, Augusta National’s short hole that always plays an outsized role in the proceedings. Like Jordan Spieth’s tee shot three years ago, the ball landed right of the flag, bouncing off the bank and into the water. He was the third player in the final two groups to hit it into the water (Finau followed him there after Woods safely hit his tee shot onto the left side of the green).

    “I just didn’t hit it hard enough,” Molinari said about his “chippy” 8-iron. He made another double-bogey three holes later, after his wedge shot clipped a tree branch and fell into the lake fronting the green. The metronomic Molinari, who made just one bogey over the tournament’s first 54 holes, shot 74 on Sunday. It was an uncharacteristic result for a player whose game is predicated on control.

    Woods, meanwhile, two-putted for par to grab a share of the lead for the first time all week.

    “The mistake that Francesco made let a lot of guys back in the tournament, myself included,” Woods said.

    The wind swirls through Amen Corner, the lowest point on the property, making the course’s shortest tee shot also its most unpredictable. “Once it gets above those trees, it’s a guessing game,” said Koepka, who played in the day’s second-to-last group. He also hit it into the water, but atoned for the mistake by making eagle on the next hole to get back to 11 under.

    Two holes ahead, Patrick Cantlay, eagled the back nine’s other par-5, to take the lead at 12 under. He was joined by another Californian, Xander Schauffele, who birdied both 13 and 14. Even the stoic Cantlay was fist-pumping, a testament to the intensity of what was transpiring. Cantlay bogeyed the next two holes, though, to quickly fall back.

    There were plenty of challengers to take his place. Woods and Molinari both birdied 13 to join Schauffele at 12 under par. They were joined by Johnson after he birdied three in a row (Nos. 15-17). And Koepka joined the fray with a two-putt birdie at 15. He just missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole that would have put pressure on Woods. Koepka was trying to win the third leg of the career Grand Slam, and his third major in his last four starts. That’s something that hasn’t been accomplished since Woods’ prime.

    But when Koepka’s putt slid by the hole, Woods only had to bogey the final hole. That allowed him to win with an easy bogey, a relatively relaxing finish to a crazy day at Augusta National.

    “I can’t wait to see how it all unfolded from the TV perspective today,” Woods said.

    Like 1975, 1986 and 2005, even those who know the outcome will enjoy watching this one.

    Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.

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