Tiger Woods reacts as he wins the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
It was a Sunday unlike any other at this tradition unlike any other.
Woods, 43, shot a 2-under par 70 to win his first green jacket since 2005 and his first major since the 2008 U.S. Open. His 13-under 275 was enough to defeat Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffle, and Brooks Koepeka by one stroke, but that does not begin to tell the story of a dramatic Sunday that ended approximately four-and-a-half hours early after tee times were moved ahead due to the threat of severe weather.
In addition to Woods’ fifth Masters championship and 15th major title (trailing only the great Jack Nicklaus in both categories), Sunday marked his 81st victory on the PGA Tour, one away from the career record held by Sam Snead. It was also the first time Tiger had won one of golf’s four major championships when not entering the final round with at least a share of the lead.
“It fits,” Woods quipped after 2018 champion Patrick Reed slipped the traditional winner’s garment over his shoulders in Butler Cabin. It was a far more sedate setting than the 18th green had been a few minutes before as Woods clinched the title with a short bogey putt.
“WOOOOOOO!!!” Woods screamed as he headed for the scoring room with chants of “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger” echoing as loud as any of the roars on the back nine at Augusta National. He scooped up 10-year-old son Charlie, born a year after that dramatic victory on Father’s Day weekend at Torrey Pines. He hugged his mother and then his 11-year-old daughter Sam, and everyone else in his camp that stood by him through a public divorce, an embarrassing DUI arrest from a concoction of painkillers and surgeries.
“To have my kids there, it’s come full circle,” Woods told CBS during the post-round interview. “You know, my dad was here in ’97 and now, I’m the dad with two kids there.”
Woods began the day in a tie for second with Tony Finau two shots back of Francesco Molinari, the defending British Open champion with nerves so steady that entering Sunday, the Italian had not bogeyed any hole since the 11th on Thursday.
But Molinari’s nerves and shotmaking skills failed him on the back nine Sunday. Holding a two-shot lead on the 12th tee, Molinari watched helplessly as his tee shot rolled off the green and into Rae’s Creek. A double bogey was not enough to drop Molinari from contention, but the veneer of invincibility had cracked.
That was the cue for a roller coaster ride at the top of the leaderboard. Six players had a share of the lead at some point on the second nine. With the final trio of Woods, Molinari and Tony Finau in the 15th fairway, five players were tied at the top.
If what happened at 12 was tragedy, what happened to Molinari at 15 was a farce. Playing conservatively to avoid the water after an errant tee shot on the par-5, Molinari found himself with what should have been a simple third shot onto the green. But he hit his wedge fat, popping the ball up into the air, off a nearby tree and into the water. He double-bogeyed the hole to drop out of a share of the lead and out of contention.
On the same hole, Woods made a two-putt birdie-4 to take the outright lead for the first time. He secured his advantage at the par-3 16 by sticking an 8-iron within 2 feet of the cup for another birdie and a two-stroke lead.
In the end, three-time major winner Koepka had a chance to put pressure on Woods at the last, but he pulled a birdie putt left of the 18th hole to give Tiger all the cushion he needed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.