AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- The Masters usually comes down to the back nine on Sunday afternoon.
Or, in this case, Sunday morning.
Vijay Singh, battling a guy in a ski cap on frosty greens, played David Duval to a draw as they completed the rain-delayed third round. About 10 hours later, Singh came through again when it counted most, winning his first green jacket and second major title.
''It was important for me not to lose any shots coming into this afternoon,'' Singh said. ''It gave me a little more boost.''
And don't forget his performance Saturday, when he shot 1-under through 14 holes in winds gusting more than 40 mph, blowing just about everyone else away. Jack Nicklaus, for instance, shot an 81 in the gusty conditions, his worst performance ever at Augusta National.
''That's a heck of a score,'' Nicklaus said at the time, glancing toward Singh's red number.
On Sunday, the back nine lived up to its reputation as the place where the Masters is decided. Singh narrowly escaped disaster at Amen Corner to hold off Ernie Els by three shots and Duval by four.
Singh's iron shot close to the pin on No. 13 that Duval followed by putting one in the water proved to be the deciding swing down the stretch. But just as important might have been a curling downhiller he made to save par on No. 17 in the morning, while Duval, looking like a snowboarder in ski cap and sunglasses, missed a short birdie putt.
The putt helped Singh walk to the first tee in the afternoon still holding a three-shot lead, and he stayed on top of the leaderboard the rest of the way.
''Walking up the 18th hole knowing a two-putt was going to win the golf tournament was probably the greatest feeling I've had in a long, long time,'' Singh said.
The lead nearly disappeared when Singh pulled an iron into the pond fronting the left side of the 11th green and it appeared he was going to have a difficult shot from a drop area behind the pond.
But, after getting his line from marshals, Singh was able to drop to the right of the pond where he had a much easier pitch. He knocked it within 2 feet and made it for a bogey 5.
''When I saw the ball go in, I thought, that's not so bad,'' Singh said. ''The angle was much easier to get up and down from than going to the ball drop.''
On the dangerous par-3 12th, disaster nearly struck Singh again.
His tee shot went long into some overhanging bushes, but skidded out and into the back bunker. Singh blasted out and saved par to keep what was then a one-stroke lead.
Then it was Duval's turn to play giveaway. Only his would prove fatal to his chances.
Duval's second shot into the creek in front of the par-5 13th came just after Singh put his iron within eagle range. Trying to respond, Duval backed off the shot several times before finally blocking it out into the water.
Duval hung his head after hitting the shot, a rare show of emotion.
''It was probably the only bad shot I hit this weekend,'' Duval said. ''It was the wrong time to do that.''
While Singh and Duval dueled down the stretch, Els was making a run of his own in front of them, with three birdies that put him within two shots. But he missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th that might have put more pressure on Singh.
''I knew from watching this tournament on television that everything happens on the back nine,'' Els said. ''I felt like I was going to win this tournament when I stood on the first tee. It just wasn't meant to be.''
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.