AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – Tiger Woods’ march toward Masters history could not be stopped by the best golfers in the world nor a tougher Augusta National course.

Charles Goddeeris
Tiger Woods rejoices after winning his second consecutive Masters.
[AP PHOTO]

Woods made short work of the tournament’s redesigned course yesterday, and had an even easier time against a collection of top-ranked players who scrambled for the sidelines.

He became only the third player to win back-to-back Masters.

An early burst of birdies gave him control, and Woods never let anyone closer than two strokes the rest of the way. He closed with a 2-under 70 to claim a three-stroke victory over U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.

Despite all the course changes, the scene was familiar: Woods walking up the 18th fairway in a victory parade, tugging on his cap to acknowledge the applause.

He finished at 276 and won a green jacket for the third time in just five years. He became the first player to repeat as Masters champion since Nick Faldo did it in 1990. Jack Nicklaus was the only other, in 1965-66, and Woods’ victory put him halfway to Nicklaus’ mark of six Masters.

Last year, Woods battled Phil Mickelson and David Duval down the stretch to become the first player to sweep the four majors consecutively.

Another tight finish loomed yesterday with six of the top seven players in the world bunched on the leaderboard. By the end of the day, they were scratching their heads.

“We were all trying to make something happen to catch Tiger, because we knew he wasn’t going to falter,” said Mickelson, who closed with a 71 to finish third.

Woods accepted his green jacket from Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson – traditionally that’s the job of the defending champion.

Johnson ordered the course redesigned to make the tournament a tougher test. The changes added 285 yards to the length of the course, stretched bunkers and shifted the tees.

Rain softened the course and allowed for lower scoring, but perhaps it was Woods’ presence that turned so many top challengers into mush.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els tried to charge and wound up with an 8 on No. 13 by hitting into the trees and into the creek.

Former Masters champion Vijay Singh went into the creek, the crowd and the trees, then took a 9 on No. 15. Goosen, who started the final round tied with Woods, was already three strokes behind after three holes.

“I was kind of surprised, no doubt about it,” Woods said about no one making a run. “But that doesn’t deter me from my concentration.”

Can anyone catch Tiger?

“We’ve been over this 100 times,” Thomas Bjorn said. “This being the Masters and him being up there, it obviously puts you under a bit of pressure.”

It was similar to Woods’ record-breaking season in 2000, when he won the U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes and the British Open by eight strokes.

The praise sounds familiar, too.

“Give him a couple more years, and I think Tiger will be greater than even Jack Nicklaus,” Goosen said.

Woods is sure getting closer.

He won his seventh professional major, joining a list that includes Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer, who made this Masters his 48th and last.

Woods also became the first player since the Masters began in 1934 to win a major championship four years in a row.

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