AUGUSTA, Ga. - The journey began June 18, with the shadows growing long over the Monterey Peninsula and a gentle breeze blowing in from Stillwater Cove.
It was there, at the 2000 U.S. Open, that Tiger Woods dusted the field by 15 shots at the Pebble Beach Golf Links and began what might go down as the grandest achievement in the history of golf.
Yesterday, with history wafting through the pines at the Augusta National Golf Club, Tiger Woods completed his sweep of the major championships when he won the 65th Masters to make it four in a row, to make it the Grand Slam, or the Tiger Slam, or whatever historians will call what he accomplished.
The journey that weaved through the links at St. Andrews and needed a three-hole playoff at Valhalla came to an historic end in the soft Georgia twilight, right on the same ground walked by Bobby Jones, when Woods beat David Duval by two shots and Phil Mickelson by three.
When it was over, when he had rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the final hole to end the journey, Woods pulled his black cap over his face and tried to comprehend the enormity of what he had accomplished.
“I was thinking, I don't have any more shots to play. I'm done,” Woods said. “I won the Masters.”
This was more than just the sixth major championship for Woods, who shot a final-round 68 to finish at 16-under 272. This was more than just his second green jacket, his fifth victory in the last six majors, his third victory in four weeks. This was DiMaggio stuff, Celtics stuff - four major championships in a row, something no player in the modern history of golf has achieved.
Not Nicklaus, not Palmer, not Watson. Not Snead, not Nelson, not Hogan.
“It's very difficult to win these events, any of these majors,” said Duval, who charged with a final-round 67 to finish second for the second time in four years. “To have your game at the right place at the right time, there's an art to that. I don't know what you'd compare it to, but I don't think you can compare it with anything in modern golf.”
OK, Woods did not win four majors in the same calendar year, which is considered the criteria for the Grand Slam. But no player has ever won four in a row since Bobby Jones won what was considered the Grand Slam in 1930 - the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open, British Amateur.
“To win four in succession, it's hard to believe,” said Woods, who has 27 victories in 98 PGA Tour events since turning professional in 1996.
Asked if he will consider it a Grand Slam, Woods said, “I won four.”
“He's earned it because of the guys chasing him,” Fred Couples said. “I guess if you're a historian, it isn't [a Grand Slam]. But I think it is because it will never get done again.”
“We'll never see it again - unless he does it,” said Rocco Mediate, who shot 73 and finished tied for 15th at 7 under.
“He seems to do just what is required,” said Mickelson, the world's No. 2 player who shot 70 and finished at 13 under. “I think if I was making a run, he would have followed suit.”
But Mickelson never really did make a run at Woods, the world's No. 1 player. He pulled into a tie when Woods bogeyed the first hole, but he could never gain the upper hand. When Mickelson birdied No. 7 from 12 feet, Woods offset that with a 16-foot birdie. When Mickelson birdied the par-5 eighth from 3 feet, Woods answered with a flop shot and a 10-foot birdie.
Even at No. 9, when Woods spun his second shot back off the green, he saved par with a bending 6-footer. At No. 10, when he flew his second shot to the back of the green, some 45 feet from the pin, Woods needed a 7-foot putt to save par and delivered.
“That was stretch was very crucial because I could have fallen behind,” Woods said. “I had to keep pace with those guys. I had to make those putts. I made some putts to keep me in the ballgame.”
That's because Duval was ahead, trying to apply salve to a rash of past Masters disappointments. Duval went through the front nine at Augusta National in a bizarre flurry, making six birdies and two bogeys and not registering a par until the ninth hole. When he birdied No. 10 from 12 feet, he had tied Woods at 14 under.
Woods moved to 15 under with a tap-in at No. 11 - he almost holed an 8-iron from 149 yards - but immediately gave the shot back when he flew an 8-iron into the back bunker at the 162-yard 12th.
When Duval pitched to a foot for birdie at the par-5 15th and Woods two-putted the par-5 13th from 30 feet for birdie, the two were tied again.
But then Duval came to No. 16, the 170-yard par 3, a hole awash with bitter Duval memories. It was here, in 1998, that he made bogey when he was holding a one-shot lead with three to play.
All that did was open the door for Mark O'Meara, who became the first player to win the green jacket with birdies on three of the last four holes.
Now, tied with Woods, it happened again.
“I hit a golf shot that might be the best golf shot I ever hit,” Duval said, “and I made a 4 out of it.”
The best golf shot Duval ever struck - a 7-iron - flew over the green into the back swale. “I just can't stand up there and hit an 8-iron,” Duval said. He chipped 8 feet past the hole, missed the putt and made bogey. That dropped him a shot behind Woods. Duval had two other chances, from 14 feet at No. 17, from 6 feet at the 18th. He missed them both.
“I've been in this position before, and a few times I may very well have beat myself,” Duval said. “I didn't do that [yesterday]. I just came up short. It's not enjoyable sitting here under these circumstances.”
Curiously, the end for Mickelson also came at No. 16. He had recovered from a bogey at No. 11 with a two-putt birdie from 30 feet at No. 13 and a 15-foot birdie at No. 15 that moved him a shot from the lead. But Mickelson yanked a 7-iron to the top shelf at No. 16 and three-putted from 35 feet, failing to save par from 7 feet.
“That was a real killer,” Mickelson said. “I got within a shot and I needed to step up and make a good swing and I pulled a 7-iron. That was a disappointing shot.”
In the end, it didn't matter. Woods came charging to the finish, hitting his drive at the uphill 18th 330 yards, leaving him a 75-yard wedge to the hole. His birdie putt was fitting, an exclamation point on what might be the grandest achievement in the history of golf.
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