The first two Masters titles were all about history.
Tiger Woods' green jacket in 1997 focused on breaking barriers, marking the first player of color to win at Augusta National. His second title in 2001 completed the Tiger Slam by becoming the only player ever to win four straight modern majors.
The latest victory, though, comes with no historical attachments. This one was about continuing to validate Jack Nicklaus' vision as a golf prophet.
It was Nicklaus who predicted that Woods would win 10 Masters titles. Well, Woods now is 30 percent there with seemingly a golfing lifetime still ahead of him.
Woods put No. 3 in the books Sunday in methodical fashion. He shot a 71 to finish at 12 under, three shots ahead of Retief Goosen, who had plenty of company among underachievers during a lackluster final round.
The title enabled Woods to move into even more elusive neighborhoods in the record book. He becomes only the third player to win back to back at Augusta: Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo were the others. He joins Sam Snead, Gary Player, Faldo, and Jimmy Demaret as three-time Masters winners.
The 26-year-old now shares billing on the list of seven-time major winners with Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead. He doesn't figure to stay there long, with his sights set on No. 8 at the U.S. Open in June.
"It's pretty neat to be able to have my name mentioned with some of the golfing greats, especially at this tournament," Woods said. "This tournament is obviously very historic and very special to all the players. To be able to put my name on that trophy three times, it's really cool."
This title was cool, not great. It came with none of the emotions that flowed after his other two victories. There were no sobbing hugs with father, Earl, nor hats hiding a face full of tears at the 18th green.
No. 3 had a been-there, done-that feel. Woods did what he normally does when he wins the Masters. He hits a few shots for the highlight films (a chip-in for birdie at No. 6 and wedge to inches to set up a birdie at 15) and never seems to miss a short putt to save pars.
"I know what it takes to win here," Woods said. "I've been in the final group before. I know how to handle my emotions. You just go out there and play."
Indeed, the victory was machine-like. Woods actually used the word "finagle" to describe how he played the course.
Woods wasn't spectacular, but he almost was flawless. He made only five bogeys during the last three rounds.
"I hit some good shots today and made a couple good putts when I absolutely needed them," Woods said. "I just really hung around and was able to outlast the guys today."
The guys could have made the day memorable if they applied just a hint of pressure. Woods opened the day tied for the lead at 11 under with Goosen. Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia all were within striking distance.
But the A-list challengers stumbled so badly, if they had used shotguns instead of golf clubs, their bullets still would have landed in the water. Woods had a four-shot lead during most of the back nine thanks to players like Els and Singh drowning five balls between them.
"Nobody really was really putting any pressure on him," Goosen said. "I think he was just cruising in. He wasn't taking any chances out there. He didn't have to do anything but par in on the back nine."
Woods actually had the luxury of playing the last nine holes in 1-over 37. Even so, he still was exhausted, but it mainly stemmed from having to play 26 holes Saturday.
"This year was more of a physical test," Woods said. "[Last year] was mental, with the chance to win four in a row and trying to block everything out. This year it was just a physical grind."
Physically or mentally, there is nobody close to Woods. After failing to mount a charge in last year's final three majors, the victory put him back on the pedestal.
"Beside Jack Nicklaus, Tiger is the best player," Goosen said. "Give him a couple more years and I think Tiger will be even greater than Nicklaus."
Indeed, Woods now is in the collection phase of his career, adding notches in the pursuit of Nicklaus. His next historic Masters title will be his sixth, when he ties Nicklaus' all-time mark.
Four and five still should be interesting, especially if he gets more of a push than he got Sunday. He already is looking forward to next year.
The three-time winner feels so at home at Augusta National he even feels comfortable throwing in a dig. Noting the controversy over veteran Masters champions getting a letter asking them quit playing, Woods couldn't resist a joke about his status.
"I haven't got a letter yet," Woods said. "If I don't get a letter, I'm coming back."
It's three down for Woods, and many more to go.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun