When the third round commenced late Saturday afternoon, Woods and DiMarco continued to attack the softened course. Tiger bashed his way around the front nine in 31 before darkness halted play, giving him 12 birdies in 26 holes for the day and drawing him within four strokes of the precise DiMarco, who was riding a streak of 44 consecutive holes without a bogey. As scintillating as the golf may have been to that point, though, what really had Augusta buzzing on Saturday was a juicy spat between Singh and Mickelson that had been brewing for days.
for the first three rounds Mickelson played in the group directly in front of Singh. As Lefty was leaving the 13th tee on Friday, a tournament official approached him and asked to examine the bottom of his shoes. According to Will Nicholson, the chairman of the Masters competition committee, "A player [had] said that there were some spike marks on the 12th green, and to the best of their knowledge, they were caused by Phil Mickelson."
While about two thirds of the Masters field used soft spikes, Mickelson went with old-school metal, and for extra traction in the sloppy conditions he employed spikes that were a legal eight millimeters in length instead of the standard six. Back on the 13th tee the Masters official uncovered nothing untoward with Mickelson's spikes, and Spikegate seemed over. But after thunderstorms stopped play on Friday, Mickelson and Singh retreated to the clubhouse, to a claustrophobic upstairs locker room reserved for past champions. At some point Singh began yapping to a table of other players about his irritation in having to navigate Mickelson's spike marks, and overhearing this, Mickelson approached the big Fijian.
According to multiple sources, Mickelson said he felt it was disrespectful for Singh to have tattled to tournament officials rather than approaching him directly. Singh was dismissive in response, and the two men continued to jaw at each other, with the vibe becoming so intense that one past champ later said he considered stepping between the two players. The confrontation eventually was defused without fisticuffs, but Mickelson later issued a sharply worded statement in which he fingered Singh as the whistleblower and added, "I was extremely distracted and would have appreciated if it would have been handled differently."
Proving that the golf gods have a sense of humor, Mickelson's and Singh's scores left them paired for the final round. They shook hands on the 1st tee and then spent the next four hours studiously ignoring each other. Neither would finish within eight shots of Woods, who began the final 18 with a three-stroke lead, thanks to his stunning rally when the third round recommenced on Sunday morning.
As Woods birdied his way through Amen Corner and DiMarco double-bogeyed the 10th hole out of a bush, it was only 43 minutes into the restart when Woods seized his first lead of the tournament. This was bad news for the field: Woods had never lost a major in which he was the leader after 54 holes. Woods's advantage was still three strokes heading to the back side. DiMarco, however, wouldn't go down without a brawl. ("There's no backup in Chris," says Woods.) He rolled in a 30-footer on 11 to trim the lead to one, and then, after bogeying the dangerous 12th, stuck an approach shot to within inches on the 14th for a birdie that again drew him within one stroke. On the 15th they traded prototypal birdies--Woods smashed a drive and easily reached the green with a towering eight-iron, while DiMarco laid up and wedged to within three feet, blissfully immune to the inane braying of CBS's Lanny Wadkins, who opined that by laying up DiMarco was playing for second place.
The par-3 16th hole proved monumental. DiMarco left himself an 18-footer for birdie while Woods jacked his eight-iron long and left of the green, leaving himself little green to get to a tucked pin. His only play was to throw his pitch onto the frighteningly fast slope high above the hole and hope the ball funneled close enough to leave a realistic chance at par. As Woods's caddie, Steve Williams, said later, "We were just trying to escape with a three."
Woods picked his chip beautifully from an awkward lie against the second cut of rough, and the ball skipped onto the green, made a hard right turn and began inching down the slope, breaking toward the cup. The ball stopped on the precipice of the hole and after a beat or two tumbled in for a birdie. Woods's play-by-play: "All of a sudden it looked pretty good. And all of a sudden it looked really good. And then it looked like how could it not go in, and how did it not go in, and all of a sudden it went in. So it was pretty sweet."
Added DiMarco, "You expect the unexpected, and unfortunately it's not unexpected when he's doing it."
Now up by two, Woods gave a shot right back by driving into the trees on 17 and making bogey, setting the stage for the drama on the 18th hole and the ensuing playoff. After Woods had at last vanquished DiMarco, he rushed to the back of the 18th green where his mom, Tida, got the first hug, as usual, and then he planted a long, sloppy smooch on Elin. Noticeably absent among the delirium was Woods's father, Earl. A series of health problems has curtailed Earl's travel in recent years, and now he's battling cancer that began in his prostate but has spread aggressively. He rallied to make the trip to Augusta, but he was not up to navigating the crowds at the course, choosing instead to watch the tournament on TV at a rented house. In an emotional speech at the green jacket ceremony, Tiger dedicated the victory to Earl.