Tiger Woods stormed to a blockbusting Masters victory on one of the most dramatic, and earliest, finishes in Augusta National history.
With the Green Jacket looking destined to end up on the shoulders of Francesco Molinari with seven holes remaining, the Italian faltered down the stretch and found water at 12 and 15, while Woods vaulted into a two-shot lead with three birdies in four holes from the 13th.
And with challenges from around a dozen players soaring and fading throughout a remarkable back nine, Woods held it together and completed a two-under 70, which added up to a winning score of 13 under par – securing his fifth Masters title, his first in 14 years, and his first major championship since the 2008 US Open.
The first half of the final round was a war of attrition among the final three-ball, and Molinari prompted memories of his super Sunday performance at Carnoustie last July as he kept finding ways to scramble pars while not being quite on top of his long game.
The seemingly-unflappable Ryder Cup record-breaker went long with an adrenaline-fuelled approach to the first, pitched to 12 feet and calmly rolled in the putt for an opening four, although the efficiency from the 10-foot range suffered a lapse on the second as he missed a good chance for birdie.
Woods then holed from eight feet for birdie at the third, but he gave it straight back when he came up short at the 240-yard fourth, while Molinari enjoyed the luxury of two cast-iron pars which restored his two-shot advantage, and the Italian nailed another nerveless par putt on the fifth green as Woods three-jabbed to bogey the hole for the fourth straight day – a first in his career.
Molinari produced another great escape at the sixth, but his remarkable run of 49 holes without a bogey ended after a poor drive at the seventh, where Woods clipped a wedge to a couple of inches and tapped in to pull within one of the leaders.
They traded birdies at the eighth, and Woods produced the lag putt of the tournament at the ninth from 70 feet down the slope, while Molinari rattled in a six-footer for par to stay one clear at the turn. And then, the old adage that the Masters does not start until the back-nine on Sunday rang true.
Molinari’s metronomic radar suddenly deserted him after pars at 10 and 11, finding water at 12, then again at 15 to end his hopes. Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, and Dustin Johnson all enjoyed spells in the lead; Brooks Koepka, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, and Justin Thomas all threatened, with Thomas emulating Bryson DeChambeau’s ace at 16.
But amid all the chopping and changing at the top of the leaderboard, Woods calmly went about his business with a controlled performance reminiscent of his heyday, ignoring the plights of his playing partners to hit the 13th and 15th greens in two to set up routine two-putt birdies, and he suddenly found himself two clear of the field at 16.
His birdie two was nowhere near as dramatic as his sensational chip-in from the back of the green 14 years ago, but a precise iron to two feet was just as significant, and the putt was never in doubt.
Woods’ task over the last two holes was made a little easier when, up ahead, neither Johnson, Schauffele, or Koepka were unable to find the birdies on 18 they needed to apply the appropriate pressure, and the iconic red shirt was cleared for a procession to the finish line.
With Skysports reports