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New Hotshot Takes Tiger At Masters' Final Round

LIANE HANSEN, host:

The green jacket has been lint brushed and dry-cleaned and this evening the new Masters champion will put it on and become part of golf history. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us to talk about today's final round at Augusta National. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: Let's talk about Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy. He led all week. Who is he, and more important, can he hold on for one more day?

GOLDMAN: Well, first who is he? He's a 21-year-old young man who's playing with the patience and golf maturity of someone twice his age. He's been talked about as the next big thing for a couple of years. Some are wondering if he's the next Tiger Woods. If McIlroy wins today, he'll be the second youngest Masters winner. Tiger was the youngest back in '97. That's a tall order to have that comparison made.

But certainly Rory McIlroy shares with Woods that fanatical devotion to the game early on. Rory's mom tells the story of when Rory was 11, his coach told him to change his grip on a golf club. And mom one night checked in on Rory in bed. He was asleep, but his arms were outside the blanket and his hands forming the grip his coach wanted.

Now, the second part of the question, can he hold on, you know, Liane, the final round of Augusta can bring out the shakes in anyone. Today will be a real test. But he's certainly shown the calm and patience that are needed to finish the job.

HANSEN: Let's talk about Tiger Woods. Yesterday, it seemed all the buzz was about him. Friday, he looked like that dominant golfer he used to be. Saturday, none of that swagger was left. Why is he having trouble keeping it together two rounds in a row?

GOLDMAN: Well, of course, last year, you know, he struggled with his personal scandal and he still may be dealing with that. But the main thing he's struggling with now is his swing. He's in the midst of another swing change, and it's a long process. The swing is looking much better.

One golf writer said this week at Augusta that for the first time in a while Tiger Woods looked like he was playing golf instead of giving himself on-course lessons, but the results aren't there yet. When - and everyone expects it to be when - when the results come, when it all clicks for him, it's going to be, you know, fantastic to watch him to do serious battle with McIlroy and some of the other 20-somethings who are really heralding a youth movement in the game.

HANSEN: Did you see all those flags on the leaderboard? I mean, there's one player from every continent in the top seven except North America.

GOLDMAN: I know. Going into today's final round, it's the first time in the history of the Masters - that's a 75-year history - that there's not an American in the top five. There are lots of great U.S. golfers. I don't think it's time to panic. But, yes, golf has become more global over the years.

For some countries that haven't been that avid about it, golf is coming back to the Olympics in 2016 and countries around the world have taken notice and are ramping up their involvement and their development in the sport. Because, Liane, every country loves Olympic medals.

HANSEN: You bet. NPR's Tom Goldman. Enjoy the round.

GOLDMAN: I will. Thanks.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.