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Birdie putt on first playoff hole defeats DiMarco

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The chip scooted up the slope and crawled
toward the hole. There, for two agonizing seconds, it hung on the
edge before disappearing into the cup.

A shot for the ages, sheer magic from Tiger Woods' glorious past
in The Masters.

Just as stunning was the mess that followed, shots into the
trees and the sand, a rare collapse by the greatest closer in golf
on the verge of blowing a final-round lead in a major for the first
time.

The only thing that looked familiar was Woods wearing a green
jacket.

Woods kept a breathless gallery guessing to the very end Sunday,
when he delivered his best two shots under stifling pressure and
made a 15-foot birdie putt to beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff to
win his fourth Masters.

"I was just trying to hang in there," Woods said. "To play as
poorly as I did on 17 and 18 and have a chance to go into a playoff
and hit two of the best golf shots I've hit all week is really sweet."

It was a show-stopper that started on dew-covered fairways in
the morning when Woods rattled off seven straight birdies to tie
The Masters record. It ended in fading sunlight when Woods hit a
perfect tee shot in the playoff and an 8-iron that covered the
flag. His winning putt slid into the corner of the cup and sent
Woods to his ninth major championship at age 29.

DiMarco gave him the fight of his career, chipping away at a
three-shot deficit with a 35-foot birdie on the 11th and applying
the pressure with steely nerves.

He played with Phil Mickelson last year when Lefty won his first
major with an 18-foot birdie on the final hole. He was helpless as
Woods made a 15-foot putt in the playoff on No. 18 from the same
line.

"I was ready to win," DiMarco said. "I will be ready to win
next year. I certainly feel like I can."

Woods knew it was over when the ball was a foot from the hole,
taking two steps to the left as a smile creased his face and his
right fist punched the air with fury.

DiMarco, whose birdie chip in regulation caught the right edge
of the cup, again came up short of the green in the playoff and
chipped close for a tap-in par. He took his hat off and ran his
hand through his hair, crouched and kept looking up at Woods and
down at his feet, afraid to watch, perhaps knowing what was about
to happen.

When the putt fell, DiMarco walked slowly toward Woods and
congratulated him.

"Expect the unexpected," DiMarco said. "Unfortunately, it's
not unexpected what he's going to do."

Woods closed with a 1-under 71 and won for the second time in a
playoff at a major, wrapping up a long and bizarre week at Augusta
National. It started with rain delays, and an eagle putt that Woods
rolled all the way into Rae's Creek. It ended with his record run
of birdies to seemingly pull away, only to be dragged into a duel
by DiMarco.

Woods and DiMarco played 28 holes on Sunday, and gave the
gallery a Masters it won't soon forget.

For Woods, the only thing missing was his father waiting for him
on the 18th green to celebrate. Earl Woods' health has been bad all
year, and he never left his hotel room. Woods broke down while
dedicating the victory to him.

"Every year that I've been lucky enough to win this tournament,
my dad's been there to give me a big hug. And today, he wasn't
there," Woods said, his voice cracking and his eyes filling with
tears. "I can't wait to get home and see him, and give him a big
bear hug."

Woods never needed so many heroics to win his previous three
Masters.

DiMarco was responsible for that.

"This was one fun victory, but also a lot of work because I was
playing with one heck of a competitor," Woods said. "Chris has
got no backoff in him. He'll come at you ... and that's what he did
today. He put up a heck of a fight."

Woods emerged from this battle with his ninth major, tied with
Ben Hogan and Gary Player, halfway home to the standard set by Jack
Nicklaus. He joined Nicklaus (six) and Arnold Palmer (four) as the
only players with at least four Masters titles.

Still, this didn't look like the same player who won his first
eight majors.

At times Woods was simply brilliant, especially when it took him
only five shots over two holes in 22 minutes to make up a four-shot
deficit when the third round resumed Sunday morning. He tied a
Masters record with seven straight birdies on his way to a 65,
giving him a three-shot lead going into the final round.

But he made the kind of mistakes rarely seen from Woods in the
final round of a major -- a three-putt on the fifth hole from about
25 feet, a poor bunker shot on the 13th. All of them raised
DiMarco's hopes.

"Anytime you can make him hiccup a little bit, you know you're
doing something right," DiMarco said.

Ultimately, all that mattered to Woods was having Mickelson, the
defending champion, slip the green jacket over his shoulders in the
Butler Cabin, and being a major champion again for the first time
in nearly three years.

He last won at the 2002 U.S. Open, and the 10 majors that have
come and gone matched his longest drought.

"Ten majors is really not that long," Woods said. "Some guys
go 0-for-life. I've had my major championships. I know what it
takes."

This one returned him to No. 1 in the world ranking, again
replacing Vijay Singh at the top.

Both players finished at 12-under 276.

DiMarco won over the crowd with his fist pumps and resiliency.
After finishing the rain-delayed third round with a back-nine,
5-over-par 41 Sunday morning, DiMarco outplayed Woods in the final
round and could easily have won except for missing four birdie
putts inside 8 feet.

He was stunned, like everyone else, when Woods hit a chip on the
16th hole that instantly became part of Masters lore.

Woods was clinging to a one-shot lead and on the ropes, sailing
his tee shot long over the par-3 16th green with DiMarco facing a
15-footer for birdie. Woods played his chip up the slope and
watched it trickle down, begging from his knees for it to keep
going. When it stopped, then dropped, it looked as though Woods had
The Masters won.

"I would rank that as one of the best ones I've ever hit,"
Woods said. "It turned things around. It was pretty huge."

But even a two-shot lead with two holes to play wasn't enough.

Woods sliced his tee shot on No. 17 into the pines, couldn't
reach the green and escaped with bogey when his pitch rolled off
the green. He sailed his approach on the 18th into the bunker on
the right and made another bogey.

That forced the 13th playoff in Masters history, and the second
one in three years.

U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen closed with a 67 and tied for
third with Luke Donald of England, who shot 69. They finished seven
shots behind the leaders.

Mickelson and Singh played in the final round and barely spoke,
having argued over spike marks earlier in the week. Singh got the
last laugh with a birdie on the 18th for a 72, allowing him to
finish one shot ahead of Lefty.

But that was just the undercard.

From a staggering rally by Woods in the morning to a shocking
collapse at the end, Augusta National lived up to its reputation as
the most dramatic stage in golf.

"I hope we put on a good show for all of you," Woods said.