Tiger Woods bogeyed the final two holes then summoned up a majestic birdie three at the first play-off hole against fellow American Chris DiMarco to capture his fourth Green Jacket on another epic final day which saw European Tour Members Luke Donald and Retief Goosen share third place.
Woods, one stroke ahead of DiMarco with three holes to play, seemed to have his ninth Major Championship in safe keeping when he conjured up a stroke of sheer genius at the 16th to lead by two. However a wayward drive at the 17th and an errant approach at the last saw his lead wiped out.
DiMarco got up and down from the front of the 18th green for a closing 68 to Woods’s 71. Both men finished another extraordinary ‘Masters Sunday’ tied on 276, 12 under par and, as the daylight faded fast over Georgia, the players went back to the 18th tee for the first play-off not to start on the tenth tee.
Once again, DiMarco left his approach short, but Woods was in no mood to make further errors. His second shot covered the flag and after DiMarco had chipped dead for a par four, he rolled in the putt for a winning birdie from 18 feet.
It was the fourth time in nine years that Woods slipped into the coveted Green Jacket and brought him level with Ben Hogan and Gary Player with a haul of nine Majors – halfway to his ultimate goal of emulating Jack Nicklaus and, at 29, the youngest person to reach the total of nine.
An emotional Woods dedicated the victory to his ailing father, Earl, who made the journey to Augusta but was too unwell to join other members of the Woods family at Augusta National.
Fighting back the tears, he said: “This win wasn’t for me. I want to dedicate it to my dad. He hasn’t been feeling well and it’s been very difficult. He made the trip but wasn’t able to join us. This was for him.”
He added: “I was playing one heck of a competitor out there in Chris DiMarco. He won’t back off. He fights tooth and nail and I was glad that putt snuck in during the play-off. I enjoyed the head to head contest.”
DiMarco was left with that empty play-off feeling for the second major in succession, having lost out to Vijay Singh in last year’s US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
There were some strong performances by European Tour Members Donald and Goosen. Donald, on his Masters debut, covered the last eight holes in six under par for a closing 69 and five under par total of 283.
Goosen also finished with a flourish, picking up strokes at four of the last six holes to card the lowest round of the fourth round, a five under par 67, which propelled him into that tie for third place.
Goosen, however, felt that a cold putter did not allow him to begin his assault on the title until it was too late. He said: "I played well for two and a half, three rounds, played really solid. The putter was still ice-cold or it could have been a better day."
Goosen's finish was his second best at Augusta since he made his Masters debut in 1998. He finished second behind Woods in 2002.
In all, eight European Tour Members finished in the top 20, with a memorable Masters debut for England’s Ryder Cup player David Howell, who closed with a 69 for 286 and a share of 11th place. Like Donald, he is automatically qualified for 2006 having finished in the top 16 places.
Former Champion Vijay Singh of Fiji shot 72 to tie with South African Trevor Immelman (73) on 286. Immelman also enjoyed a wonderful last day, shooting 65 in the third round in the morning and holing in one at the 16th in the afternoon.
Frenchman Thomas Levet finished tied 13th on 287 after a 73, Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland was tied 17th after a closing 71 and two-time winner, Bernhard Langer of Germany claimed a share of 20th place on 289 after a 71.
The 16th hole which gave Immelman who much enjoyment also saw the moment the 2005 Masters ignited. Woods missed the green and looked in danger of taking a bogey. The prospect of a two stroke swing seemed possible with DiMarco inside 15 feet.
However Woods delivered a wonderfully delicate chip from 30 feet high above the hole and watched in growing anticipation as the ball edged its way closer and closer. Just to complete the fairytale shot, the ball hovered on the lip of the hole for a couple of seconds before toppling in.
"It was one of the best shots I've hit. I figured I had to try and give myself a chance for par and I didn't expect it to go in. Then it got closer and closer and lookedlike staying on the edge til the earthquake happened and it fell in! That was pretty sweet."
The fist-pumping reaction of Woods told the whole story as that birdie two lifted him to 14 under par and three under for the day. DiMarco missed his own birdie putt but was back within one shot of the lead at the 17th after a wayward drive and weak chip by Woods cost him a bogey.
Once more, the Masters had burst into life on the back nine on Sunday – and the drama wasn’t over as Woods found a greenside bunker at the last and could not make his par putt.
After another dramatic play-off, which saw Woods usurp Singh as World Number One, DiMarco took his loss philosophically. At 8am, as the weather-delayed third round resumed, DiMarco led Woods and the field by four shots. Less than an hour later he was two behind.
He admitted: “I let it slip in the morning but I played very good in the afternoon. I felt I needed a good last round and it was close all the way. I proved a lot to myself.”
Donald, who made eagles at both the 13th and 15th before almost emulating Immelman’s ace at the 16th, showed he has the game and the temperament to win a Masters title one day.
“I guess after my double bogey at the tenth my motto was ’never give up’. I chipped in for a birdie at the 11th and that gave me the momentum I needed. Yes, my second round 77 was costly but is someone had given me three rounds in the sixties on my debut I would have taken it.
“Third is a great performance. I am happy with that. I’ll be back next year with my confidence high. If I can play this event with the course running harder and faster I think the course will suit me”.
Howell also handled himself with great aplomb on his debut, holing a bunker shot for the only eagle of the week at the second and birdieing three holes in a row – all form about four feet – at the 14th, 15th and 16th.
The Swindon golfer, who had experienced playing with Woods on a charge in the third round (he shot 76 to Woods’s 65), commented: “I am very pleased with the week. It’s my best finish in America, my best finish in a Major, I’ve played with Tiger on a charge and I’m back here next year. I feel like I’ve had a few years of experience in one week.”