Tiger Woods held the European Tour challenge at bay to successfully defend the Masters Tournament and claim his third Green Jacket in the space of five years. But throughout the week international players dominated the leaderboard at Augusta National and when the final putt dropped no fewer than nine European Tour Members occupied positions in the top ten, led by the reigning US Open Champion Retief Goosen in second place.
Indeed of the record 25 European Tour Members invited to compete in the 66th Masters Tournament, 18 made the 36 hole cut and 14 finished in the top 20, the best ever performance by European Tour Members in a Major Championship in the United States.
But the presence of so many world class players could not deny Tiger Woods his seventh Major Championship title in only his 26th Major Championship appearance. Rounds of 70-69-66-71 for a 12 under par total of 276 left Woods three strokes ahead of Goosen.
Woods becomes only the third player to successfully defend the title following Jack Nicklaus in 1965-66 and Nick Faldo in 1989-90. Woods joins Jimmy Demaret, Faldo, Gary Player and Sam Snead as a winner of three Green Jackets. Only Arnold Palmer, with four, and Jack Nicklaus, with six, have won the Masters Tournament on more occasions.
Woods, the World Number One, took the lead for the first time on the very first hole of the final round, when Goosen, who had putted magnificently all week, three putted from distance to fall one behind. Woods tightened his grip on the title with back-to-back birdies on the next two holes. He dropped his first shot of the day on the fifth but immediately repaired the damage when he chipped in from the back of the sixth green and remained in command as one by one his challengers faltered.
The matter was finally put beyond any doubt when Woods hit a wonderful approach to just six inches to set up a birdie four and move five strokes clear. Goosen closed the gap to three with birdies on the 15th and 16th holes as Woods bogeyed the 17th hole but like a true champion Woods played a towering approach to within 15 feet on the last to complete a round of 71 and secure the title.
Goosen, winner of the 2001 Volvo Order of Merit, arrived at Augusta National full of confidence following his victory the previous week in the BellSouth Classic. But the putting touch which helped into the lead after 54 holes deserted him over the early stages of the final round as Woods pulled clear. He fought back over the closing holes for a final round of 74, his first round outside the 60s after starting with rounds of 69-67-69, for a nine under par total of 279, a stroke clear of Phil Mickelson.
José Maria Olazábal, the 1994 and 1999 Masters Champion, once again performed with great distinction as he closed with a round of 71 to finish on seven under par 281 in fourth place.
A shot further back was Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who also closed with a round of 71 in his third Masters Tournament appearance to finish on six under par 282. Ernie Els, who started the final round in spectacular style with two birdies looked to be the main threat to Woods but his challenge ended when he twice found Rae’s Creek on the 13th en route to a triple bogey eight. His closing 73 left the double US Open Champion in a share of fifth place with Harrington.
With four holes remaining Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters Champion, was the main threat to Woods but his hopes of a second Green Jacket disappeared when he twice pitched into the water guarding the front of the 15th green. The Fijian closed with a 76 to finish alone on five under par.
Sergio Garcia closed with a 75 to occupy eighth place on four under par, one stroke ahead of three more European Tour Members.
Miguel Angel Jimenez and Adam Scott, making his Masters Tournament debut, both closed with rounds of 70 to lie on three under par alongside Angel Cabrera in a share of eighth place, completing the list the European Tour Members in the top ten.
Cabrera and Garcia launched the European Tour challenge on the first day, opening rounds of 68 leaving them one shot behind the first round leader Davis Love III. Nine European Tour Members were gathered within three strokes of the lead.
European Tour Members again came to the fore on the second day with Singh producing a scintillating round of 65, his lowest round at Augusta National to take the halfway lead ahead of Goosen.
Goosen soon moved ahead in the third round and held the outright lead until dropping a shot on the last. All the while Woods was quietly stalking Goosen and a birdie on the final hole put him into a share of the lead going into the final round. Six of the top seven players in the world were lined up in the top six positions for the final day’s drama but ultimately it was the World Number One who captured the 66th Masters Tournament.