Golf's world order has been restored.
The Cat is back.
But he sure had to work for it.
For the fourth time Tiger Woods is wearing a green jacket --- it was a 42-long, the last time we checked --- but this one's already a bit tattered.
Woods had to wrest it away from Chris DiMarco on Sunday at Augusta National, finally ending a gripping, heart-pounding battle with a 15-foot birdie on the first playoff hole, the famous 18th.
Woods is lucky the sleeves weren't clawed off.
"It was one fun victory," he said after winning $1.26 million and tying Arnold Palmer for the second-most Masters titles, "but also a lot of work. . . . The guy I played against is one heck of a competitor. He put up one heck of a fight."
If it seems like it's been a while, it has --- 34 months since Woods won his last major championship. He had been stuck at eight since the 2002 U.S. Open.
But what could be more appropriate? With nine, Woods is halfway to the record of 18 professional majors held by Jack Nicklaus, who on Saturday announced he had played his final competitive round at Augusta National.
"I haven't thought about it," Woods said of the number, smiling. "I guess I am halfway there. . . . A long way to go."
The deciding stroke was the downhill, 15-footer that Woods sank in the playoff, besting a resilient DiMarco after they tied in regulation at 12-under-par 276, but the scene certain to labor the videotape machines is the 30-foot, sloping chip at the 16th hole that Woods pulled off, defying all logic.
Giving Woods a two-stroke lead, the ball funneled off the slope and toward the flag, the noise building from the massive gallery.
After hanging on the lip for three seconds, the ball finally fell in, setting off Woods' double fist-pumping celebration.
"I think, under the circumstances, it's one of the best I've ever hit --- only because of the turning point," he said. "If Chris makes his putt and I make bogey, all of a sudden it's a different ballgame.
"Somehow an earthquake happened," Woods said, "and it fell in the hole."
For Woods, who rebuilt his swing over the past two years and had patiently dealt with critics citing his "slump," it was especially satisfying, even more so after a first-round 74 this week that put him seven shots back. It also was Woods' third win this season, pushing him back to No. 1 in the world.
"I've battled the last couple of years to work hard on my game and make some changes," said Woods, who had tied for 15th and 22nd since winning back-to-back Masters in 2001 and 2002. "I wasn't winning major championships. . . . I wasn't in contention on the back nine of every major like I like to be. That's where you want to be. It was nice to get back there again and be in contention with a chance to win coming up the back nine on Sunday. It's a thrill.
"More than anything, it's validation of all the hard work I've put into it," Woods said. "To play as beautifully as I did this entire week is pretty cool."
Not so beautifully in the last half hour, when Woods bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes to end regulation, and DiMarco, after hitting short and chipping up at 18, nailed a 5-footer to set up the first playoff at the 18th.
"I was kind of throwing up on the last couple of holes," said Woods, who could have ended it in regulation by hitting the 18th green and two-putting, but he flared his approach into the right bunker and bogeyed.
But on his second trip through the 18th, Woods played superbly. With darkness creeping in, he fired a "perfect" 3-wood up the right side of the fairway, then flushed an 8-iron that landed above the hole and stuck, a few feet closer than Phil Mickelson's winning putt last year.
"For some reason," Woods said, "I hit two of the best golf shots I hit all week."
In his most emotional moment, Woods teared up at the finish, again in the Butler Cabin and, most deeply, at the 18th hole ceremony, dedicating the win to his ill father Earl, who was in Augusta but unable to attend.
"This one's for you, Pop," Woods said.
DiMarco, who has lost consecutive playoffs in major championships (also in August at the PGA Championship), the loss was brutal to absorb but also defined the magnitude of his character. After it took Woods only 22 minutes of the resumed third round to erase DiMarco's four-shot lead --- he shot a back-nine 41 --- everyone assumed Woods, who had a third-round 65 that could have been a 62, would pull away in the final round as in his three previous Masters wins.
But DiMarco pushed Woods to the limit, even chipping up for a kick-in par on the playoff hole after coming up short again with his 6-iron approach, from 166 yards.
"Any time you can make him hiccup a little bit, you know you're doing something right," DiMarco said.
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