American Tiger Woods reclaimed golf's world number-one ranking with a thrilling sudden death victory Sunday at the Masters tournament at the Augusta National course in Georgia. Tiger sank a five-meter birdie putt on the first playoff hole to hold off hard-charging fellow-American Chris DiMarco. Woods emotional victory Sunday - his first win at a major tournament in three years - may finally silence his critics.
Tiger Woods dedicated his fourth Masters victory to his ailing father, Earl, who has been fighting heart problems and cancer. Even though his dad was not feeling well enough to be on the course with him, Tiger says he felt his presence.
"His sayings that he always used to have, you know, 'Trust your swing, pick out your spot.' You know, just little things I could hear him saying that," he said. "And I know he was not out there physically, but he was there emotionally, he was there in spirit, he was there with me the entire way. And I took strength in that."
Winning the Masters' legendary "Green Jacket" ended the 29-year-old Woods' 10-major victory drought since he captured the U.S. Open in 2002. During that time, Woods has won and played in fewer tournaments and has been widely condemned for making numerous changes in his game and in his life.
"I had to keep justifying myself each and every day. And that became very frustrating," he said. "But in the end I had a game plan. And the game plan was to eventually peak at the right time. And it takes about a year, sometimes even two, to put things together. In this case it took just over a year, so it is very exciting."
Critics blamed the so-called "Tiger slump" on everything from his marriage to Swedish model Elin Nordegren last October, to changes he has made to his golf swing. So this win was special for Woods.
"You know, I have kind of battled the last couple of years to work hard on my game and make some changes," he said. "And I was not winning major championships. It was nice to get back there again and be in contention with a chance to win coming up the back nine on Sunday. It is a thrill."
Tiger Woods has now won nine major tournaments, tying him on the list with American legend Ben Hogan and South African Gary Player. But he still has a long way to go before catching up with all-time leader Jack Nicklaus, who has 18 major titles.
The 65-year-old Nicklaus, known as the "Golden Bear," played in his final Masters this year but failed to make the cut.
Woods started this Masters tournament poorly, carding a two-over-par 74 in the opening round. But he bounced back with a 66 in the second round, before catching fire in the rain-delayed third round. Tiger was only able to play nine holes before darkness fell Saturday, but he fired birdies on the last three holes.
He continued his sparkling play Sunday, starting the day with four more birdies, and tying the Masters record for seven straight. He shot a 65 in the third round and after leader Chris DiMarco crumbled with a 74, Woods went from trailing DiMarco by six shots to leading by three heading into the final round.
Woods started the round with a pair of birdies to increase his lead to four, but DiMarco battled back to stay close. Woods had never blown a final-round lead at a major and had never given up more than a one-stroke advantage on the last day of any tournament.
But on the 16th hole, with DiMarco charging and Tiger holding a one shot lead, Woods made a shot for the ages, as he chipped toward the hole from around 35 meters. After hitting the green and rolling down an eight-meter slope, the ball balanced on the lip of the cup for two breathless seconds before dropping into the hole for a birdie. DiMarco says he was not surprised.
"He made a great chip and I was over there expecting him to make it," he said. "You know, you expect the unexpected. And unfortunately, it is not unexpected when he is doing it."
That gave Woods a two shot lead with two holes left, but the drama was not over. Tiger bogeyed the final two holes and both players ended regulation tied with 12-under-par totals of 276.
For the sudden death playoff, Woods and DiMarco returned to the 18th tee. Tiger hit a picture-pefect tee shot to the center of the fairway, before knocking an eight-iron five meters from the hole.
After sinking the birdie putt to claim his fourth Masters title, a tearful Woods said, "This one is for Pops."
"Every year that I have been lucky enough to win this tournament my Dad has been there to give me a hug. And he was not there today," he said. "I can't wait to get home to see him, to give him a big bear hug."
With the win, Tiger Woods reclaimed the world number-one spot from Vijay Singh of Fiji, who finished the tournament eight strokes back in a five-way tie for fifth place. Defending champion Phil Mickelson of the United States was never a factor, ending the tournament in 10th place.