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Woods wins Masters for third time

By MIKE RABUN

AUGUSTA, Ga., April 14 -- Tiger Woods avoided the mishaps that befell the most accomplished challengers his sport has to offer Sunday and coasted to his second consecutive victory at the Masters, further establishing himself as golf's undisputed king.

With a three-shot victory, Woods joined Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo as the only players to have won back-to-back Masters. He also became the seventh player to capture the event three times, adding his name to a list that includes Nicklaus, Faldo, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret.

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Only the weather could have stopped him, but the forecasted thunderstorms never materialized to rain on Woods' latest triumph.

The world's top-ranked golfer claimed the title by carefully crafting a final round of 71 at the Augusta National Golf Club while players ranked second (Phil Mickelson), third (Ernie Els), fourth (Retief Goosen), fifth (Sergio Garcia) and seventh (Vijay Singh) failed to make a challenge.

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The horror stories included an eight by Els at the par-5 13th hole and a nine by Singh at the par-5 15th. Goosen, tied for the lead with Woods when the final round began, bogeyed two of the first four holes. Garcia could never get going and eventually finished eighth. Mickelson, even though he shot a 1-under 71, bogeyed three holes on the front nine to take himself out of realistic contention.

At the age of 26, Woods joined Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Snead as the winner of seven major professional championships. The only players to have won more have been Tom Watson (8), Player (9), Ben Hogan (9), Walter Hagen (11) and Nicklaus (18).

Woods has won six of the last 10 major events and continued a relentless quest of his goal to surpass Nicklaus as the greatest major championship competitor of all time.

Nicklaus won his seventh major pro title at age 27 and did so in his 26th appearance in a major. This year's Masters was the 27th time Woods has played in a major championship and ended a streak of three straight such tournaments won by somebody else -- last year's U.S. Open (Retief Goosen), British Open (David Duval) and PGA Championship (David Toms).

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The only players to have won more Masters than Woods have been Nicklaus (six) and Palmer (four).

"Thats pretty neat," Woods said. "It is neat to be able to have my name mentioned with some of the golfing greats. This tournament is very historic and very special to the players. This is one we all went to win.

"It would be nice to win as many majors as Jack did. That would be great. If it doesn't happen, though, it doesn't happen.

"But what I have said all along is that I want to do is become a better player at the end of the year than I was at the start of it. If I can do that year after year, I'll be a pretty good player."

The test presented the 45 players who took part in the final round was a stern one. The only sub-70 score turned in Sunday came from Japan's Shigeki Maruyama, who shot a 67 and admitted he attacked every pin on the course.

Not even Woods was immune to the hazards that can be found on every hole of one of the world's most famous playing fields.

He made three bogeys -- losing a stroke at the par-4 fifth when he sent his tee shot crashing into the trees, missing a 10-foot par putt at the 11th after a poor second shot and failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker at the 17th.

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Woods more than made up for those stumbles with birdie putts at the second and third holes and then with a chip-in from 25 feet at the par-3 sixth after his tee shot skipped over the green. His final birdie came at the 15th, where he hit a perfect pitch over the pond in front of the putting surface to within tap-in distance.

Just moments before, Singh had chunked two balls into the same pond and made a quadruple bogey.

Woods won $1,008,000, leaving him with $2,685,500 for the season and giving him a stranglehold on what would be his fourth consecutive money title.

Second place and $604,800 went to Goosen, who after falling as many as five shots behind made a mini-comeback with birdies at the 15th and 16th to shoot a 74 for a 279 total.

Mickelson was alone in third at 280 and two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal played the back nine in 34 to shoot a 71 and finished at 281. Els wound up tied for fifth at 282 with Padraig Harrington while Singh was relegated to seventh place at 283 following a 76.

Having shared the lead to start Sundays round, Woods found himself three shots ahead after just three holes.

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Goosen three-putted the first hole for a bogey to give Woods the lead by himself and Woods then birdied the second and third, holing putts of six and eight feet.

There was still at least some suspense remaining as the final groups headed to the back nine with Woods standing at 13-under, Singh at 10-under and Els at 9-under.

But the only two players who had any kind of chance of catching Woods self destructed.

Els drove poorly at the par-5 13th with his ball coming to rest near the creek that skirts the left side of the fairway. His second shot hit a tree limb and came down in the water and, after taking a penalty drop, his fourth shot went into that portion of the creek that cuts in front of the green.

"It was not for lack of trying," Els said. "I tried. I just made a terrible swing at the 13th that cost me."

Singh then found disaster at the 15th to remove any doubt as to the winner of the 2002 Masters.

"People think everybody just kind of fell down, but that's not the way it was," Woods said. "Anything could have happened. It was a lot tighter than people thought." Content: 15027000

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