Tiger Woods knows history, even if he doesn't always make it. His bid to become the first player to win three straight Masters ended when Woods imitated eventual champion Mike Weir by hitting left-handed out of the azaleas on the third hole and making double bogey.

But if past performance is any indication, it was over before Woods got to the first tee. He figured he needed a 65 in the final round, the same score Jack Nicklaus shot when he rallied from four strokes down to win the 1986 Masters. And that right there is the difference.

Nicklaus charged into history. Woods prefers to lead the way.

Woods has won all eight of his majors by taking at least a share of the lead into the final round. That's not an accident — it just confirms he's on top of his game, and his opponents have seen enough to know he won't come back to the field.

This week was different. It started with Woods needing to chip three times on the first green, the last one dropping from 40 feet for an improbable bogey.

He needed a gutsy par on his 36th hole — from under a tree and out of a bunker — just to make the cut on the number.

"It was just one of those weeks where I couldn't really get anything going for an extended period of time,'' Woods said after shooting 75 and just before heading to the closing ceremony to present Weir with the green jacket.

Everyone knows that Woods is 28-2 when leading after 54 holes. Flip that around, though, and he is only 8-89 in stroke-play tournaments when trailing.

Sometimes, he was well out of the hunt. But there were seven major championships in which Woods was within five shots of the lead going into the final round — the same margin Len Mattiace made up Sunday at Augusta National — without winning.

Woods has come close three times — the '98 British Open, '99 U.S. Open and last year at the PGA Championship — but he has yet to force a playoff.

Nicklaus, whose 18 majors remain the benchmark, was renowned for his Sunday charges in the biggest tournaments. The Golden Bear came from behind seven times in his career, including five of his first eight majors.

"He's close to perfect, but he's not totally perfect,'' said Woods' good friend Mark O'Meara. "That doesn't mean it will go his way every time, and he knows that.'' If Woods didn't know that when he teed off under sunny, breezy conditions, it wasn't long before he found out.

He had an 18-foot eagle putt on the second hole that was woefully short, and he settled for birdie. Then Woods made the kind of blunder he usually forces from everyone else.

Caddie Steve Williams talked him into a driver on the 350-yard third hole, and Woods missed it right into the trees, so close to the azaleas that he turned around a wedge and hit it left-handed to get back into the fairway.

"Granted, I hit a good shot to get out, but I also left myself one of the hardest shots on the golf course,'' he said. "On top of that, I semi-bladed it. I kept compounding one problem after another.''

The first pitch went long. The second was short. Two putts from the fringe later, Woods was back to even par and didn't make another birdie until No. 9. By then, he was 3 over par and trailing by nine.

By the end of his career, some of these statistics could balance themselves out. Woods proved he is capable of big comebacks at the 2000 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, when he made up seven strokes over the final seven holes.

He made up eight shots on Ernie Els in one day alone, the final round of the 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic, eventually beating the Big Easy in a playoff.

No such luck in the majors, even with a big chunk of history riding on the outcome.

Woods rallied from two holes down with two to play to win his third straight U.S. Junior Amateur. He made up a five-hole deficit after the morning round in 1996 to win an unprecedented third straight U.S. Amateur.

The other time Woods had a chance to win the same major three straight times was at the 2001 PGA Championship. He holed two long putts on the closing holes just to make the cut at Atlanta Athletic Club.