“It fits,” Tiger Woods said.
And wearing a huge smile and the coveted green jacket he’d just slipped into, Tiger Woods emerged as the 2019 Masters champion. He had just won his fifth Masters (second to Jack Nicklaus’s six) and 15th major (second to Nicklaus’s 18). The man who was in danger of never playing again had just won his first major in nearly 11 years, since the 2008 U.S. Open, and his first Masters in 14 years. It felt as good as all the others, in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005. Maybe better, for a man of 43, second oldest winner after Nicklaus at 46, after years of personal turmoil and health problems.
“Just unreal,” Woods said. “Just the whole tournament has meant so much to me. Coming here in ’95 for the first time, and being able to play as an amateur; winning in ’97, and then come full circle, 22 years later, to be able to do it again, and just the way it all transpired today.”
It was the first time Woods won a major after trailing going into the final round. He stayed close, shooting 70-68-67, and trailed, successively, by four, one and two strokes. Then, in an fairytale finish, he closed with a 70 for a 13-under 275 and won by one. The 83rd Masters was truly one for the books.
Everyone was chasing the placid Italian, Francesco Molinari, who tied for the lead in the second round and then was leading solo the rest of the way. Faced with predictions of heavy afternoon storms, officials opted for a early start, with play to be in threesomes and splitting to start at Nos. 1 and 10. It was a battle for second place behind Molinari until the late starters reached the water-guarded par-three 12th, the Masters’ 155-yard Bermuda Triangle, where so many hopes and dreams disappear.
The toll among contenders was great. There were four double bogeys among the last two threesomes. In the next-to-last group, Ian Poulter’s flickering hopes were all but snuffed out and Brooks Koepka’s chances took a big hit, both on double bogeys. And in the final group, Molinari, who made just two bogeys through the first 65 holes, was leading by two when he stepped up to the 12th tee. He had played the wicked little hole in par-birdie-birdie.
But this time, his tee shot pulled up short, dropped onto the bank and rolled back into the water. He double-bogeyed.
Tony Finau, who began the final round two shots off the lead, also watered his tee shot and also double-bogeyed. “I still could have made something happen down the stretch,” Finau said. “But 12 was kind of a big swing.”
The third man of the group, Tiger Woods, hit the green safely, 50 feet from the flag, and two-putted for par, tying Molinari for the lead. Was Molinari hit by pressure? Not likely, the pundits said, noting that he had won the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie, turning back Woods in the stretch, and in the 2018 Ryder Cup he went 5-0-0, including three wins against Woods.
“I was trying to hit a chippy eight iron,” Molinari said. “It was probably a nine-iron yardage, but I didn’t want the wind to gust and get the ball, and I just didn’t hit it hard enough.”
The stampede was on. Six players shared the lead at some point on the final nine, and when the final threesome was in the 15th fairway, there was a five-way tie for the lead.
“That mistake Francesco made there let a lot of guys back into the tournament — myself included,” Woods said. “The leaderboard was absolutely packed. Now I know why I’m balding. This stuff is hard.”
It got worse for Molinari. Negotiating a corner at the par-five 15th, he nicked a tree limb, watered the shot, and double-bogeyed again. “I think it wasn’t my day today,” Molinari said. “But I’m really happy of the way I felt out there. I was calm, collected, never panicked … but I’ll learn from my mistakes.”
The chase was intense. Koepka, after his double bogey at 12, eagled the 13th and shot 70, tying a stroke back with two — Dustin Johnson, who birdied four of five from the 13th for a 68, and Xander Schauffele who birdied five of seven from No. 8 and shot 70. Finau birdied 13, 15 and 16 for a 72 and tied for fifth with Molinari (74) and Webb Simpson (70).
Woods had his own birdie spree coming in. He birdied both par-fives, hitting an eight-iron second into 13 and a five iron from 234 yards into 15, and at the par-three 16th he hit an eight iron from 179 yards to about 18 inches.
He came to the 18th with a two-shot lead, tapped in for a bogey and a one-shot victory, and swept up his kids, son Charlie, 10, and daughter Sam, 11. Later, after the hugs, he would sign for his 70, his 13-under 275, and his sixth Masters. And his 15th major.
And was he now drawing a bead on No. 16, in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18?
“You know, I really haven’t thought about that yet,” Woods said. “I’m sure that I’ll probably think of it going down the road. Maybe, maybe not. But right now, it’s a little soon, and I’m just enjoying 15.”
The final leaders: Tiger Woods 70–275, Dustin Johnson 68–276, Xander Schauffele 68–276, Brooks Koepka 70–276, Jason Day 67–277, Webb Simpson 70–277, Tony Finau 72–277, Francesco Molinari 74–277.