10 Apr 2017
Fits like a glove - Sergio receives his green jacket.
After a record 74 attempts – and countless near misses – Sergio Garcia is a major champion.
The popular Spaniard prevailed over Justin Rose with a birdie on the first playoff hole on a day of high Masters drama with a pulsating final nine holes.
Garcia, 37, became the third Spanish golfer to salute at Augusta National – a win made even more emotional coming on the day of what would have been his idol Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday, and with the first eagle for a champion on the back nine since good friend Jose Maria Olazabal did so in his 1994 triumph.
But while the eagle three on 15 will provide the highlight reel footage, a crucial par on the 13th hole after taking a penalty drop after an unplayable lie was where the tide turned.
Garcia was hot early and had led by three walking on to the sixth tee when Rose began a streak of three straight birdies to draw level.
Back-to-back Garcia bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes ceded the lead by two, then when Rose hit a towering drive down 13 and watched as his good friend fiddled over his drop in the pine straw, it seemed the Spaniard’s major heartbreak would continue.
But today proved different – finally.
Garcia fought hard for a tough par, then watched Rose battle to his own par from the back of the green when he’d seemed certain to pick up at least one stroke.
Rose held his nerve over a curling par putt on the 14th, but Garcia cashed in on the momentum and drilled a short birdie to pull back within one.
The Englishman made another birdie on the 15th, but Garcia was now inspired and almost holed out his second for albatross, glancing the pin with an 8-iron from the top of the hill. His eagle putt duly tied the scores.
Rose seemed to have steadied with a birdie on 16 after a tremendous tee shot to match Garcia who missed his own short birdie try. But the Englishman couldn’t save par from the front sand on the 17th and scores were tied heading to the 72nd tee.
Both players missed short birdie tries on the final regulation hole, Garcia’s from inside 1.5m appearing, momentarily at least, like it could extend his major misery.
But when Rose drove into the trees on the right side of the 18th fairway as they replayed the hole in sudden-death, Garcia took full toll and rifled his approach inside 3m and calmly rolled in his birdie to spark emotional scenes and a rare chanting of his name by the crowd.
“It’s been such a long time coming,” confessed Garcia, a three-time runner-up among a staggering 23 top-10 finishes in major championships since his debut in 1999.
“I thought I had it on 18 when I hit the putt exactly where I wanted.
“But I knew I was playing well and I felt the calmest I’ve ever felt on a major Sunday.
“Even after a couple of bogeys I was very positive and believed there were a lot of holes I could get to and I hit some really good shots coming in and I’m so happy.”
Never far from his mind were his two Spanish heroes, to whom he’s been compared for so long.
“It’s amazing. To do it on (Seve’s) 60th birthday and … join my two idols, it’s something amazing,” he said.
“Jose sent me a text on Wednesday night, telling me how much he believed in me and what I had to do and I just believed in myself and being calm and not letting things get to me as I’ve done in the past.”
On his late nine-heroics, Garcia said the par up the 13th had been critical when things could have easily gone the other way again.
“I hit a good third and fourth shot and knew I needed to make a putt to stay with it,” he said.
“But I knew I was playing well enough to make something happen and that putt turned the (tide) for me. Even though it was a par, I got more confident and made two great holes.”
There will be better scores than the 69s both Garcia and Rose fired to close out the Masters; there have been far greater numbers of permutations than what was effectively a two-man back-nine shootout.
But you’ll struggle to find more storylines come together – and hoodoos buried – than in Sergio’s charge to win the green jacket he feared would never sit in his cupboard.