AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Back-to-back Masters Tournament victories are rare and have never been easy. This one was for Tiger Woods.
If you're looking for a history-maker in the tournament, Woods continues to be your man.
Just as he did when he won his first Masters by a record 12 shots in 1997, Woods scored another historic victory, making it look effortless.
This time, the No. 1-ranked player and defending champion strolled to a three-shot victory Sunday against a world-class field of contenders in the 66th Masters.
On a soggy course that was lengthened 285 yards this year, Woods went around in 70-69-66-71 for a 12-under-par 276.
Woods, 26, joins Jack Nicklaus (1965-66) and Nick Faldo (1989-90) as the only repeat winners in tournament history.
Both Nicklaus and Faldo had to go extra holes to do their double, Nicklaus winning a three-man, 18-hole playoff and Faldo turning back Raymond Floyd on the second hole of sudden death.
Tiger Woods wore his green jacket after winning his third Masters title with a 12-under-par 276. (AP Photo)
None of that was necessary for Woods, who is also the seventh player to win more than two Masters titles. Only Jack Nicklaus, with six green jackets, and Arnold Palmer, with four, have more than Woods.
"It's pretty neat to have my name mentioned with some of the golfing greats," Woods said. "To have my name on that trophy three times, that's pretty cool."
Woods also continues to move up on the major championship victory list. He's in sixth place with seven majors (three Masters, two PGA Championships, one British Open and one U.S. Open).
With birdies on two of his last four holes, U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa shot a 74 to finish second at 279.
Afterward, Goosen wondered if he received a pair of green pants for being runner-up.
"If he wants to wear green pants .. I'll just stick with the green coat," Woods said when told of Goosen's remark.
Phil Mickelson closed with a 71 to finish third, four shots back. It was the third time Mickelson has finished third and for the second consecutive year.
Nine of the top 11 finishers were international players, a new Masters record. The only U.S. players in that group were Woods and Mickelson.
Of the top 11 finishers, the field had no answer for Woods, who continues to play out of this world when he tees it up at Augusta National Golf Club. He's 32-under par for the past 10 rounds at the course, where he holds the tournament record of 270, set in 1997. Woods is under par for each of his past 10 rounds.
It's no wonder that two-time Masters champion Tom Watson said before Woods even teed off Sunday that it wasn't a matter of if Woods would win, "but by how many."
Woods has now won 31 times on the PGA Tour in seven seasons and has career earnings of $28,876,727, counting the $1,008,000 he won Sunday. He leads the tour in earnings this year with $2,685,500 and has two victories.
"Beside Jack Nicklaus, Tiger is the best player," said Goosen, who was bidding to become the first player to shoot four rounds in the 60s in the Masters but came up five shots short Sunday. "Give him a couple more years, and I think Tiger will be greater than Jack Nicklaus."
"He's an incredible player, obviously," said Davis Love III, the first-round leader who finished tied for 14th place. "It's like playing against Jack (Nicklaus) in his prime. He's hard to beat. He's the best player in the world, and we have to play hard to beat him. He's got the potential to win every time he comes here."
As a front-runner on the PGA Tour, Woods has now won 23 of 25 events in which he was either the leader or co-leader entering the final round. Worldwide, he's 27 for 31. He's seven-for-seven when leading or tied for the lead going into the final round of a major.
"I think the thing about Tiger is, he's the only leader you don't have the hope he'll falter," Mickelson said. "With that being the case, you've got to make birdies to try to catch him."
The victory in the first major championship of the year sets up Woods for a run at the Grand Slam, or victories in the four majors in the same year. He completed his version of the Grand Slam when he made the 2001 Masters his fourth straight major title, though they weren't in the same year.
"I've done four in a row before," Woods said. "It would be nice to do four in a row in the same year."
A year from now, Woods will try to become the first golfer to win three straight Masters. Nicklaus missed the cut in his bid to accomplish that feat; Faldo tied for 12th.
Woods has made no secret of the fact he wants to surpass Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships. He has now reached seven faster than Nicklaus did (by more than a year) and is halfway to Nicklaus' Masters total of six green jackets.
As expected, the lengthening of the Augusta National by 285 yards played right into the hands of long-hitting Woods, who finished sixth in the field in driving distance with a 293.8 average. Those drives set him up for shorter iron shots to the greens than most other players. Not surprisingly, he led the field in greens in regulation, hitting 54 of 72, a 75 percentage.
"The only way to Tiger-proof this course is to make all 18 holes like No. 3," said Colin Montgomerie, referring to the 350-yard par-4.
"I wish I knew why," Woods said when asked why he plays so well at Augusta National, which requires much more than just length off the tee. "I think the golf course allows you to play creatively. You use your imagination around the greens."
It's a good thing CBS-TV broadcast the entire 18 holes of a final round for the first time Sunday. Otherwise, by the time the network came on air at its normal time, all the suspense would have been gone from the tournament. That's how quickly Woods pulled away from the field.
Woods entered the final round tied with Goosen, who had won the previous week at the BellSouth Classic. After Woods parred the first hole and birdied Nos. 2 and 3, he was off and running.
"Having won here already, you know what it takes to win," Woods said. "I've been in the final group. I know how to control my emotions. I got some good breaks and made a couple of good puts when I needed them."
Goosen started bogey-par-par-bogey and trailed by four shots just like that.
"He birdies two of the first three so many times, and everybody is saying, 'Oh, my gosh, here we go again,"' Love said. "All of a sudden, everybody is playing catch-up. This is not a good golf course to start pressing on. You've got to let it come to you.
"I don't think it's a surprise," Love said of Woods' victory. "It's a surprise that one of these guys didn't have a good day."
Of the nine golfers within six shots of Woods entering the final round, only Mickelson, Jose Maria Olazabal (71) and Padraig Harrington (71) broke par.
With Goosen struggling at the start, Mickelson struck for birdies on the first two holes to issue an early challenge. He bogeyed Nos. 3 and 4, then birdied No. 6, but gave it right back with another bogey on No. 7.
"It stalled a little quicker than I would have liked," said Mickelson, who played his final 11 holes in 1-under par.
Ernie Els and Vijay Singh also gave chase but saw their hopes drown in back-nine water holes. Els, who was in second place, four shots behind Woods at the time, made a triple bogey on No. 13. He ended up shooting 73 to finish tied for sixth.
Singh, who pulled to within three shots of Woods early on the back nine, suffered a quadruple bogey on No. 15. He shot a 76 and finish seventh.
"No one was putting any pressure on him on the back nine," Goosen said of Woods.
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